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NGA causes ACT to be fully booked

VISITORS looking for last-minute accommodation in Canberra are being directed towards regional accommodation providers, or paying up to $900 per night for rooms.

The National Gallery of Australia’s Masterpieces from Paris exhibition has seen record crowds flock to Canberra, creating a severe accommodation shortage in the Capital.

Close to 300,000 visitors since early December have come to see the largest and most valuable collection of art ever exhibited in Australia.

Visitors in recent weeks have queued up to three hours to see more than 100 Post-Impressionist works by artists such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet and Cezanne.

On average, 3000 people a day are visiting the exhibition, and 8000 people went through on Saturday March 20 alone.

NGA assistant director Shanthini Naidoo said the large crowds are “the result of the caliber of the exhibition”.

The marketing manager at Forrest Hotel, Fleur Roddam, said, “It’s created a situation where every hotel in Canberra is fully booked.”

Front office manager at The Pavilion on Northbourne, Lauren Sutherland, has been directing visitors towards Goulburn.

“Demand for accommodation has quadrupled, and because the exhibition coincides with Parliament sittings, availability of rooms has become terrible,” she said.

“We’re turning a large percentage of people away and directing them towards Goulburn.”

Marie Kemp spent three hours searching Canberra for accommodation yesterday (March 24) after arriving without a booking.

“We’ve travelled from Coffs Harbour and have been driving around Canberra since 5pm…. It’s impossible to find anything anywhere.”

The operations manager at the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre, Michael Salmon, said that this not rare.

“A large number of people…have the perception that Canberra is quiet and that they’ll be able to secure a room easily,” he said.

“For the exhibition we’ve had every-one from students through to retirees, as well as internationals – we’ve had people say they’ve specifically come in conjunction with the Masterpieces exhibition from New Zealand…there’s a lot more people coming through than usual.”

Eighty per cent of visitors to the gallery have travelled from inter-state, with the overwhelming crowds forcing the gallery to extend its opening hours.

NGA director Ron Radford recently announced the exhibition will now continue until April 18, almost two weeks longer than originally scheduled.

“There’s never been such an exhibition in Australia before and people know that it’s not going to happen again…We’re just not used to these huge crowds, no-one in Australia is.”

Graeme Thompson from Pennant Hills took a deck chair to wait in the queue.

“I’m glad I took a folding chair and my paper… ,” he said. “We arrived at 7am for the 10am opening…by 8am the line was over by the High Court, by 9am people were lined up past the Portrait Gallery. There would have been at least 1000 people in the queue.”

Many are unaware visitors who become members of the gallery are able to skip the queue. Ranga Kandadai from Blacktown did exactly this.

“We got there at 9.15am; paid an extra $36 to become members…it saved us a two- hour wait.”

The exhibition, on loan from the Musee D’Orsay, will travel to Tokyo and San Fransisco after leaving Canberra. Accommodation in Canberra is expected to remain tight until then.

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