Tourism operators have backed fresh calls for an extension to JobKeeper after interstate traveller numbers dipped due to a new coronavirus flare-up.
Sydney travellers who were preparing to embark on holidays to Queensland destinations instead remained grounded after a new cluster emerged in the city’s Northern Beaches.
And thousands of Victorians travelling in New South Wales made a mad dash home before the state government introduced a hard border on New Year’s Day.
Wendy Bithell, owner-operator of Vision Walks Eco-Tours in Byron Bay, told The New Daily she was contemplating signing back on to the wage subsidy scheme after tourist numbers collapsed in December.
That’s despite a “gangbusters” period between July and December before severe flooding and the dual virus outbreaks crippled her company.
October was my most profitable month ever, but when all of this hit, I kept on getting cancellation after cancellation after cancellation,”
– Wendy Bithell
“It’s really frustrating because this time last year, we were affected by the bushfires, so I’ve had two summers in a row that have not been normal.
“Yet this is usually the period where we make our gravy and set up for the rest of the year.”
The Tourism and Transport Forum expects the travel sector’s revenue between December 24 and January 11 could be slashed by as much as $3 billion because of cancelled travel plans.
With Australians typically spending $5.5 billion on accommodation and tourism expenses over that period, that’s more than 50 per cent in lost takings over the traditionally bumper period.
Worse still, that estimate preceded Victoria’s border decision that forced travellers to cut short their holidays.
Ms Bithell, who said nearly all of her clients are international or interstate travellers, has now been forced to eat into her company’s savings to survive.
She hopes the government will prolong JobKeeper and offer another round of tourism grants to help keep her business afloat.
JobKeeper extension could cost $1 billion
According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, it’s estimated a $1 billion extension to JobKeeper is required to support the nation’s travel operators after the pandemic-afflicted Christmas.
The subsidy payments will drop further on Monday to $1000 for eligible full-time workers and $650 for part-time staff.
Grattan Institute chief executive Danielle Wood said extending the wage subsidy scheme to the industry for three months would be complex, but “justified” given the unique impact of government policies on the sector.
It follows calls last month from the Australian Federation of Travel Agents for the federal government to implement ‘JobKeeper 3.0’ to assist tens of thousands of travel workers.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the tourism sector lost 15.1 per cent of its workforce in the pandemic, compared to the broader economy’s total of 5.3 per cent.
Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell told ABC News Breakfast travel businesses already in “a world of pain” would struggle to recover from the latest hit.
“They absolutely thought borders were open, that in the Christmas and January period they were going to be able to make a quid and then the borders were closed again,” Ms Carnell said.
Businesses ‘devastated’ by slew of cancellations
Resort manager at the Islander Noosa Resort Catherine Parry-Moule said she immediately lost 10 return guests with high-value week or fortnight-long bookings after the Northern Beaches were locked down.
Although those bookings were refilled, she expects she will lose up to 20 per cent occupancy in January as more wary travellers decide against holidaying amid border uncertainty.
And that comes less than half a year after the resort lost more than 95 per cent of its scheduled income across two months.
“Understandably, some guests don’t want to travel and are fearful even though they can cross borders, and others don’t want to have a COVID test because they’ve travelled,” Ms Parry-Moule told The New Daily.
I’m devastated by it, but it’s something I can’t control, and I have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other as we try to fill these vacancies.”
Some guests rebooked for later this year, but others cancelled altogether.
Ms Parry-Moule said restaurants, cafes and tour operators were also concerned about how her hotel’s lost business would affect their earnings.
“We’ve been blessed to have JobKeeper for half of our staff and the rest we kept on because we knew training staff would take time when we needed them to jump right back in,” she said.
“Unless we remain eligible, it affects our ability to keep on staff, which flows into other businesses here in Noosa.”