National News

Specialist support and open borders essential for regional tourism survival

Tourism businesses are feeling the full effects of the coronavirus pandemic. These operators make up a significant proportion of the regional visitor economy, employing locals they are the lifeblood of their communities.

Recent payroll data from the Australian Tax Office, analysed by the Bureau of Statistics indicates the number of employees on the payroll fell 7.3 per cent across the country from mid-March to early May. Further analysis of the same data reveals this figure is actually much higher in regional areas that are heavily reliant on tourism.

While the severity of these figures has been positively impacted by the JobKeeper subsidy, concerns are rising amongst business owners of how they will be able to manage once the subsidy ends in September. Cash flow in many of these businesses is slow or non-existent and while these operators are optimistic for an influx of visitors, they are also very anxious.

Australian Regional Tourism (ART) is advocating for increased support of businesses as they navigate this new environment. Government support is needed to get regional tourism specialists out into region and assist businesses as they plan to and begin operating again in the new COVID safe environment.

Safety is their priority, but as operators consider reopening their doors to visitors once again, viability weighs heavily on their minds, ART Deputy Chair, Donna Foster said.

“For many businesses JobKeeper is holding everything together, but everyone is aware that this has an expiry date and many are unsure how they will manage when the subsidy ends,” she said.

“We are hearing over and over that operators desperately need support so they can safely reopen their businesses, they are unsure how social distancing will affect them and what special cleaning requirements will need to be implemented.”

As travel restrictions continue to ease, pressure is still mounting for the opening of all state borders. For many regions having their businesses open to ‘local’ visitors alone is simply not viable.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen said the North Queensland economy was losing $91 million each week that domestic travel was prohibited and urgently needed to make the most of the school holidays in June and July.

“The tourism economy in North Queensland is worth $6.4 billion annually, supports 37,400 direct jobs and accounts for 25% of the State’s tourism economic impact despite having only 15% of the population,” he said.

“In the Cairns region we are losing $10 million every day that domestic travel is not allowed.”

ART is calling for the opening of all State and Territory borders to fully enable domestic travel. This urgent action is essential for providing desperately needed economic flows and the return of jobs in destinations across regional Australia.