TOURISM has dropped off this month as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers, but an unexpected crowd has kept local businesses bubbling along.
Intra-regional travel has boosted smaller towns in the outer reaches of the New England region, as day-trippers and would-be holiday makers look a little closer to home.
Businesses in Uralla, Bendemeer and Nundle have reported more people from regional centres like Armidale and Tamworth frequenting their towns.
Popular Uralla brewery New England Brewing Co. owner Ben Rylands said his business lost out when Queensland slammed its border shut.
But, he said support from Uralla's surrounds has been strong.
"We've always had strong local support ... tourists are the icing on the cake," he said.
Mr Rylands said the brewery attracts people from bigger regional towns like Gunnedah, Inverell, Tamworth and Armidale during normal times, but the good news is that customer base has bounced back after the shutdown.
He said it's helped keep the business busy while the northern border is closed and highway travellers are less frequent.
"We're so grateful for the support we're getting," he said.
To top it off, the brewery has just launched its 1001st beer.
Bendemeer Hotel staff member Mary Cannon said people supporting small communities was key to getting back up and running.
She said Bendemeer had been attracting visitors and families from Tamworth and Armidale for a lunch outing.
Although intra-regional travel and hometown holidays have been a lifeline for some businesses, council is still on the front foot preparing for when travel confidence grows again.
Owner of the Peel Inn at Nundle, Robert Schofield, said his hotel is drawing more crowds than this time last year - he's even been forced to turn people away under their COVID-safe plan.
"Every weekend here is really busy and any business in town ... will tell you," he said.
"A lot more people are coming out for the day and they come up to see what's at Nundle, they might take a drive to Hanging Rock or Sheba Dams or through the forestry. So many people haven't done it before, or haven't done it for such a long time, and they're renewing their acquaintance with the region."
Mr Schofield said visitors from towns like Gunnedah and Tamworth have helped him get back on his feet after the COVID-19 shutdown wreaked havoc on the hospitality sector.
He admitted it hadn't been quite as busy over the past few weeks as it was when the pub first reopened, but said he thought the Peel Inn was still getting better numbers than the same time last year.
Mr Schofield said the pub has a strict COVID-safe plan in place for visitors and bookings are essential - especially with snow forecast for the weekend.
Ms Baker said the shift to intra-regional travel hasn't gone unnoticed.
She said one upside of the pandemic and movement restrictions seemed to be that local residents are staying closer to home and checking out what the region has to offer.