MOTELS in Armidale are usually packed to the rafters in April and May, but this isn't set to happen this year.
Graduation ceremonies for University of New England (UNE) students for the autumn months have been postponed, and businesses are bracing for the blow.
Armidale Motel owner David Lawson said numerous ceremonies a year made it a "very busy time for all motels in Armidale", but it'll be missed in the coming months.
"It certainly takes some of the cream off business, it's normally a very busy weekend for everyone in hospitality and accommodation in Armidale," Mr Lawson said.
"Every motel in Armidale just about would be booked out."
A UNE spokeswoman said the difficult decision was made because "even with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, we still face challenges in holding large, COVID-safe events on our Armidale campus".
"The traditional outdoor site for graduation (Booloominbah lawns) has the capacity for 500 people but this is significantly reduced if the event has to move indoors," she said.
"Graduands and their guests travel from across Australia for graduation ceremonies, and we understand that changing the date at short notice due to bad weather could be very costly and inconvenient for them.
"We also understand that restrictions are still unpredictable and change with very little notice, as we've seen with the recent Brisbane and northern NSW restrictions."
The spokeswoman said UNE understood that "graduation is an important event for the city of Armidale".
"It's also important that we have a carefully managed and staged return to on-campus accommodation, events and on-campus teaching and learning in line with all government regulations," she told the Leader.
"Our number one priority is the health and safety staff, students and community in our planning for return to campus events, on-campus accommodation and teaching."
It's a difficult one for accommodation businesses which are the hardest hit with COVID and we're trying to get people out and about and travelling.Armidale Motel owner David Lawson
Mr Lawson understood the university's hands were "a little bit tied by restrictions".
"You've just got to do the right thing," he said.
"It's a difficult one for accommodation businesses which are the hardest hit with COVID and we're trying to get people out and about and travelling. Inland destinations don't have the same as coastal destinations where people book in for a week."
Armidale mayor Ian Tiley said he hoped the winter graduation ceremonies might still go ahead in August.
"All we can do is hope the COVID-19 pandemic is by then under control by vaccinations," Cr Tiley said.
"We all miss them for various reasons and it really knocks our economy around and it's a great social occasion when you have a graduation at the university."
Students who haven't graduated yet have been invited to express interest for a future event, "with plans for a review mid-year to look at options for ceremonies in the second half of the year".
"We understand that many students are frustrated and disappointed about not being able to attend their graduation ceremonies due to 2019/20 bushfires and then the 2020 pandemic. These unprecedented events have resulted in a significant backlog of students unable to attend their ceremonies," the spokeswoman said.
"We didn't make the decision to postpone graduation lightly, and are considering all options to offer our students a formal graduation ceremony later in 2021."
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