'It's A Lot Quieter Now': Regional Pubs Vying For $50k Airbnb Grant To Boost Tourism

Airbnb is looking to inject up to $250,000 in regional towns to encourage Australians to travel in their own backyard.

Five pubs across Australia will be awarded up to $50,000 each, in order to revive and boost business via the platform.

One pub going for the grant is the Sofala Royal Hotel, the local watering hole of Sofala, a town in the Bathurst region of NSW established during the gold rush.

Sandy and Marty Tomkinson have been running the pub -- established in 1851 -- for decades, and have seen tourism go from the "bad old days" of outlaw motorcycle gangs, to a thriving family-friendly trade, to, well, not a whole lot.

"It's a lot quieter now," Marty told 10 daily.

Sandy and Marty Tomkinson. Photo: Supplied.

A flood in 1986 and the more recent drought have had negative effects on visitors to the town, he said. A camping ground, once by the river near the centre of town, has been moved to the outskirts.

"At different times, there were three to four hundred people in the camping area," Marty said.

"That was when the river was running really well. The drought's knocked that about, of course."

The town -- which has been described as looking "more like a movie set than a real town" -- has a population just above 200 people.

Marty is hoping the Sofala Royal Hotel will be one of five pubs across Australia selected for the Airbnb grant.

The grants are designed to "put the pub back on the map and connect them with guests", according to Airbnb spokesperson Brent Thomas.

The winning pubs will not only receive the funds, but time with a project manager, a team of design professionals and an experienced Airbnb host to help them maximise bookings.

“As a community-first platform, we continue to look for ways to help the everyday Aussie, so this will aim to generate renewed interest in small towns and communities which have been under threat in recent years due to declining populations, drought, economic disruption and waning tourism," Thomas told 10 daily.

Sofala has a population just above 200 people. Photo: Supplied.

Recent research by Airbnb found two in three (70 percent) of Aussies would like to take a regional or rural road trip to see the 'real Australia', but only 14 percent of Aussies have stayed overnight in a regional pub in the past 12 months.

The initiative -- part of multi-million dollar investment by Airbnb designed to reinvigorate tourism in regional Australia -- has the backing of NSW Minister for Tourism Stuart Ayres.

"Right across regional NSW, country towns are getting smaller, and so they're more reliant on tourism and visitors to keep those towns alive," Ayres said.

"These fantastic, old, Australian country pubs are often the heartbeat of these communities, and we want people to come and experience what is almost the most authentic Australian experience available."

The NSW government is also investing in regional tourism, with a $300 million Regional Growth - Environment and Tourism Fund designed to get Australians visiting their own back yard.

Deputy Premier and Regional Minister John Barilaro last year described tourism as "the lifeblood" of many regional communities.

For Marty, it goes further: he says the pub is the life of a small town -- particularly when it's the only one.

"If you have a look at it historically, whenever there's a hotel that's closed down, you normally find that the village or the town will start to drift away, as well," he said.

But despite the waning tourism, he said Sofala is a place that should be on everyone's country bucket list.

"It's a magic place," he said. "You've got to come experience it."

Most Popular Country Australian Destinations On Airbnb

  1. Wagga Wagga
  2. Blackheath
  3. Toowoomba
  4. Tamborine Mountain
  5. Mount Gambier
  6. Corowa
  7. Bridport
  8. Jindabyne
  9. Stahan
  10. Mudgee

You can nominate your local pub here.

Contact the author: