Canberran holidaymakers were forced to pack up and rush home after a mistake by ACT and NSW health authorities on Sunday told them they would face 14-day quarantine if they remained in Shoalhaven.
The ACT chief health officer has since apologised for the confusion which saw long queues of cars attempting to return to the territory before the midnight cut off.
Health authorities intended to include the Wollongong local government area in its restrictions, but the whole Shoalhaven region, which runs as far south as Bawley Point, was mistakenly included.
It was an unnecessary and damaging mix up for tourism operators along the coast, particularly in Mollymook which is a popular destination for Canberrans.
Dolphins of Mollymook Motel owner Bernard Jones said he'd lost multiple guests due to the mistaken announcement.
"We had people that arrived yesterday and got the message yesterday afternoon while they were on the beach and had to turn around and hightail it back to Canberra, only to be told it was a confusion," Mr Jones said.
Mr Jones spent Monday calling guests who had left, letting them know they could return and, due to other cancellations, have a longer stay to make up for their abrupt departure, but no one took up the offer.
"People are very angry at the perceived incompetence of the whole thing," he said adding that the added uncertainty of where could be labelled a hotspot next was also dissuading people from returning.
It's a blow for the south coast after last year's peak tourist season was wiped out by bushfires and the coast on track to have a record-setting summer prior to the Sydney COVID-19 outbreak.
Speaking to coastal businesses last week, it was clear that after last summer's fires and the current unavailability of international travel, businesses were ready to accept more visitors through their doors than had been seen for many years.
Batemans Bay's Sunseeker Motor Inn owner Alan Mifsud said there was now uncertainty in the community about whether the outbreak would wipe out another season.
His business had already received a significant number of cancellations for bookings within the next two weeks, primarily from Sydney residents. Concerns also extended to Victorians who were cancelling holidays for fear of facing two weeks of quarantine once they return home.
However, he said there had been an increase in Canberrans taking up some of the available bookings, which he said had led to some optimism.
"You take it on the chin and you try to move forward," Mr Mifsud said.
He likened running a tourism reliant business in a regional area to being a farmer, where the summer season was a bountiful harvest. Missing several harvests would become a significant problem, particularly during the leaner winter months, he said.
If this summer season was also wiped out he said businesses would have to make do with less, which would lead to fewer investments, staffing cuts and less training for staff.
Mr Jones also said his business had suffered multiple cancellations since the Sydney outbreak and there was unease in the community about the season ahead.