A BAD news story has become a good news story as tourists return to Bathurst after the Blue Mountains fires, according to Abercrombie House owner Chris Morgan.
And he says they are not visiting out of a sense of obligation, but because they are "delighted to be here".
Mr Morgan says the local tourism industry, in his opinion, has "never seen anything like" the period of late December and early January when drought, days of continuous bushfire smoke, record-breaking heatwaves and road closures in the Blue Mountains combined to put the brakes on visitor numbers in Bathurst.
Bathurst Regional Council tourism and visitor services manager Dan Cove told the Western Advocate early in January that foot traffic at the Bathurst Visitor Information Centre was down by 35.4 per cent between Boxing Day and New Year's Day compared with a year previously.
"Here at Abercrombie House, we noticed it to be very quiet from mid-December through until early new year and it was specifically caused by the situation of the roads in the Blue Mountains and the fires and that general concern about travelling west through a fire zone in extreme conditions," Mr Morgan said.
"But the problem with that, of course, is that tourism operators like us and the whole visitor economy in our region is dependent on that flow-through of visitors."
The long-running drought in the Central West had also discouraged people from visiting the region because they felt "they may be an imposition in stressed, small communities", Mr Morgan said.
The important thing for people on the coast to know, Mr Morgan said, was that they were welcome in Bathurst "and that we are all open for business and that their presence here and further west is a far greater assistance to the drought economy than anything else".
"Since about the second week of January, we have had an enormous number of visitors, mostly families with young children, just about all of them from the Sydney region, and they've got the message," Mr Morgan said.
"They're coming to support the economy in the west and they're all saying it and they're all delighted to be here.
"So there's a sense of mission in coming west.
"And they're all saying how fabulous it is when they get here despite the dust or the smoke or the dry."
Mr Morgan said the NSW Government's Destination NSW tourism agency had made a "huge effort" to make it clear it was business as usual west of the great divide and Bathurst Regional Council and the Bathurst Visitor Information Centre had been "very proactive and they are to be congratulated for their attitude".
"People are suddenly realising that, as visitors, it's [visiting a region] an action which has multiple benefits - everybody wins," he said.