This year looks brighter for tourism operators in the Shoalhaven, after bushfires decimated last season's visitor numbers and COVID-19 restrictions early in 2020 put them on undertain footing.
For the year ending June 2020, tourist spending in the Shoalhaven was down about $100 million from a 2019 high of $1 billion, according to Tourism research Australia.
Much of that dip was attributed to the fires.
However, local operators say business has been brisk this year, despite the chaos of COVID-19 restrictions and border closures.
"A little bit of compassion," is top of operator Mark Thirlwall's hopes for 2021.
Mr Thirlwall owns the Pleasant Way Motel, and although COVID-19 has thrown his business challenges, there is no shortage of people keen to visit the South Coast.
"I think it's because Aussies are spending their coin in Australia, which is a great thing," he said.
As a business owner Mr Thirlwall does his best to accomodate his guests but said COVID-19 meant that compassion had to go both ways.
"Some people are unwilling to understand what it's like to try and run a business," he said.
"People cancel a booking they've held for months at the eleventh hour, and when you check their booking they're from an area that's allowed to come.
"The cancellation is made out of anxiety, which is fair, but the customer also has to think about what it's fair to expect from a business.
"We need to be generous in how we treat each other."
Michelle Bishop, who owns Bangalay Luxury Villas and Dining, had 14 staff on JobKeeper at the start of the pandemic.
She now has 60 on the books, and is on the hunt for more to keep up with the demand.
"We've never been busier," she said.
"There's a great buzz, and we're all working to full capacity. Everyone's certainly much happier than they were this time last year."
Locals on holiday at home, as well as visitors and owners of holiday houses have all contributed.
Ms Bishop said visitors appreciated the chance to travel and explore the region, but COVID-19 still posed challenges.
"Everyone's very short-term oriented at the moment," she said.
"But the other side of that is it does make it easy for us to backfill cancellations from interstate guests, mostly Victoria and Canberra.
"There has been a lot of change, but the benefit of being full compared to the situation last year is huge."
At Huskisson, Chamber of Commerce president Danny Payne said the town had been busy since restrictions were eased in June.
"We haven't suffered in the way places like the Sydney CBD have," he said.
"The whole purpose of owning a business in a tourist town is to give people a good time. As long as we do that, they'll be back."
Further south, near Ulladulla, Libby Cupitt of Cupitt's Estate has noticed an increased number of new visitors to the region.
"We've never had so many new customers in one year," she said.
"No one's going to Bali, Queensland or Victoria, they're happy to visit the South Coast and they're loving what they're seeing."
The boom came in June, after a tough few months.
Many staff missed out on their usual shift and income over summer due to the bushfires, before the uncertainty of COVID-19 hit.
But when restrictions lifted, visitors came ready to spend.
"We're doing stronger sales of beer, wine and cheese than previous years, and we're fortunate to have a large open space to accomodate people within the restrictions," Ms Cupitt said.
She believed Milton-Uladulla operators were buffered from the full impact of COVID-19 because they don't rely on visitors from Canberra or Victoria, as many regions further south do.
Shoalhaven City Council Mayor Amanda Findley said the council was committed to promoting the region's tourism potential.
"Tourism is one of the top generators of jobs for the region, normally supporting an estimated 5000 jobs, with a decline in the equivalent of around 1600 jobs in relation to the decline in visitors", Clr Findley said.
She said an increase in off-season growth in tourism is the biggest driver of growth for the industry.