More than a third of Australia’s tourism businesses could close their doors in the next three months
More than a third of Australia’s tourism businesses fear they might be forced to close within three months, according to new industry research.
The sector fears uncertainty over the reopening of state borders and a very slow reopening of the international border will push many businesses to the wall.
While some pockets of the industry have fared well during the pandemic, supported by domestic travellers unable to head abroad, many have struggled enormously.
Margy Osmond from the Tourism and Transport Forum fears that as Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra emerge from lockdown, and the national economy begins to rebound, the challenges facing the sector will be overlooked.
“We’re like the poor second cousins of most of the other industries in this country, and we do need some sort of ongoing support,” she said.
“For the next six months at least.”
Sailing near-empty boats just to keep staff in jobs
Tour operators on the Great Barrier Reef are facing some tough decisions.
Reef tourism operators have endured another school holidays without tourists from their biggest domestic markets in New South Wales and Victoria.
Steve Edmondson from Sailaway Port Douglas wants to hang on to skilled staff to keep his business ready for borders to reopen.
The company runs year-round sunset and snorkelling tours.
He said keeping valuable staff sometimes meant running near-empty tours.
“We have 20 trips a week, we have 25 staff that are operating trips each day, no matter what it costs,” he said.
“We need to be positioned for 2022.”
Even as borders fall and movement becomes easier, many businesses expect things to get worse before they get better.
According to research commissioned by the Tourism and Transport Forum, roughly two in five businesses expect to be in a worse position than they are now in three months’ time.
Mr Edmondson worries a lot of businesses in Far North Queensland are on the brink — and the uncertainty of the next few months is crippling.
“I do feel there’s a lot of very vulnerable businesses, especially in the next two months,” he said.
“Who knows what Queensland will decide for Christmas, and if we leave it too late then we’re missing probably the fifth or sixth school holidays, and an opportunity to let industry look after itself and bounce back.”
’12 to 24 months’ until business looks anything like normal
Scenic World in Sydney’s Blue Mountains will reopen its doors in a little over a fortnight.
Where the attraction ordinarily caters primarily for international and interstate tourists, it will only be Sydneysiders visiting at first.
That will gradually change as travel around New South Wales, and eventually from interstate, starts to resume.
But Anthea Hammon from Scenic World fears it could be years before they are back to where they were pre-COVID.
“We think it will still be at least 12 to 24 months before we get our international visitation back up where it was — around 600,000 visitors a year.”
The federal and NSW governments have flagged a possible return to some international travel from next month.
But it is far from a return to normal. The aim is to allow Australians to leave the country, and for Australians returning home from abroad to serve seven days of home quarantine.
A restart to international tourism is not envisaged until next year, though there is a hope quarantine-free travel bubbles could be established (like the travel bubble with New Zealand).
Ms Hammon believes that as long as quarantine is part of travel requirements, foreign tourists will not be interested.
“There won’t be demand for Australia until there’s no quarantine,” she said.
“So that is a major, major factor to getting international business back into the country.”
Tourism operators want to get back to work
Some in the tourism sector remain hopeful the federal government might provide more ongoing support as it recovers into next year.
While a return to JobKeeper has been ruled out many times, Margy Osmond said it remained the hope of many.
“When we asked the industry — it’s all about a version of JobKeeper,” she said.
“That’s what they want, that’s what they feel will make a difference.”
But while support is good, for others certainty and the opportunity to get back to work are the priorities.
Steve Edmondson just wants to get more people back on the water.
“We’re not here to look for grants and support and sympathy,” he said.
“We just need to trade, and we do know that there is an appetite and interest to do that from Australians.”