On the whole, Tasmanians have welcomed the Premier’s snap decision to keep the drawbridge up on the island state’s “moat” until the end of the year.
As coronavirus ravages parts of the mainland, Peter Gutwein is taking no chances and is signalling the Christmas travel plans of many may also be under a cloud.
The extended closure has upset federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham, who sees no reason why states shouldn’t open their borders to others without community transmission of COVID-19.
And while some tourism operators are warning the longer closure will send some businesses to the wall, others are buoyed by an attempt to get Tasmanians out spending cash – from state coffers – while the borders remain shut.
The state government has offered residents “travel vouchers” to encourage local tourism. Here’s what you need to know.
I’m sorry what? I’m getting paid to take a holiday?
Kind of. As a way to get the Tasmanian tourism industry through the COVID-19 border closures you can get $100 to book a room in a hotel mid-week or $50 for a tourism experience like a cruise, walk or entry to a site like Port Arthur or Tahune Airwalk.
So you either get $100 to cover one hotel room during the week, or $50 off one experience any day of the week. Not both.
What does the Premier mean by mid-week? Well, we will have to get back to you on that one. But don’t book your annual leave in too quick.
The vouchers are available from September 1 for the months of September, October and November.
Where can I go?
Be wary of making your staycation too close to home.
The vouchers will be available to Tasmanians to travel outside their municipality, to stay mid-week in accommodation or buy a tourism experience for the three months of the program.
It’s not clear if Airbnbs will be included since the government’s announcement specified it applied to “commercial accommodation” only.
Who is eligible?
The full details of the program are still to be worked out but it looks like anyone over 18 who is a Tasmanian resident can get a voucher.
As Premier Gutwein said in announcing the program it’s “any Tasmanian who is prepared to travel outside their municipality”.
“The final rules will be worked through with industry. We want to ensure there’s appropriate access but also that it’s dealt with fairly,” Mr Gutwein said.
“We don’t want to see a particular sector of the community that benefits more. We want to ensure this is shared statewide.”
The government wants local businesses to make use of the offer by conducting meetings, or team building workshops, across the state as well holding mini-conferences and meetings.
Does this mean I can use it once as a resident and once as a business?
Well it’s unclear, like we said: full details are still to be worked out.
“I expect that after this consultation occurs that the guidelines and details of the booking system will be outlined before the end of this month for activation in September,” the Premier said.
Why are our borders shut until December 1?
Premier Peter Gutwein said it’s to give time for the COVID-19 situation in other states to be effectively brought under control.
“It will also give us time to build the community’s trust in our border measures to protect Tasmania from areas in the rest of the country that pose a high risk, while allowing travel to and from areas that pose a very low risk,” he said.
The long lead up to reopening, he said, would also give businesses time to prepare for border relaxations in the busy summer, while also giving the tourism and hospitality business a bit of certainty.
But are they really shut?
Well, there’s no drawbridge that’s pulled up at Devonport. But what it means if you come to Tassie by boat or plane there’ll be some kind of quarantine restriction and it could cost you.
Can I get out?
The real question is why on earth do you want to leave? Tassie is the best.
But seriously, if you need to visit loved ones on the mainland you can leave. But, again, there are not that many flights these days.
And, you’ll be subject to whatever restrictions are in place in the state you head to. Plus depending where you go, getting home to Tasmania could get tricky.
What does the industry reckon?
While no one can force you to take a holiday, the tourism industry hopes residents will use their vouchers to actually have a break.
Tourism operator Rob Pennicott said it was great news.
“This new stimulus package, it will make a big difference to myself as an attraction,” he said.
West-coast council mayor Phil Vickers said it now falls to regional Tasmania to convince those in the cities to visit and use their voucher.
“It’s up to regional Tasmania to put its best foot forward,” he said.
But Anthea Pritchard, the general manager at the Salamanca Wharf Hotel, said she was worried it won’t be enough to stop some businesses from going to the wall.
“A lot of businesses like ours, you put off some of the major bills you have to pay for the year thinking ‘we’ll hold that for as long as we can until later in the year when there’s some money coming in’.
“Well that’s now looking very doubtful.”
Is Tasmania the only state doing this?
No, the Northern Territory which relies on tourism about as much as Tasmania has been had been offering vouchers for internal tourism since July 1 and will keep its scheme going well into next year.
It’s a dollar-for-dollar scheme where internal travellers get $200 for every $200 they spend.