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Restaurants, tour operators welcome voucher scheme expansion

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A State Government plan to expand its popular tourism voucher program to restaurants, tour operators and ticketed events has been welcomed by industry groups, but some businesses say they might not benefit from the “one incentive fits all” scheme unless the JobKeeper payment is extended.

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The South Australian Tourism Commission (SATC) last week released tender documents announcing its third round of Great State Vouchers would include tour operators, attractions, restaurants and ticketed events.

According to the tender documents, the Government will launch the third round of 50,000 vouchers to South Australians and “some limited interstate markets” in mid-March.

The Government introduced the Great State Voucher scheme in October to promote intrastate travel and stimulate the state’s pandemic-smashed economy.

The first round of 50,000 vouchers were exhausted within 90 minutes and injected an estimated $10 million into the state’s visitor economy, while a second round of highly-contested vouchers will be released on January 5.

Both rounds offered people the chance to secure $100 vouchers to use at participating city and North Adelaide accommodation, and $50 vouchers to spend at suburban and regional accommodation.

So far, only accommodation providers have benefited from the scheme, despite calls from tourism groups to include other businesses left in the lurch by coronavirus-prompted border closures.

In the tender documents, the SATC wrote that it was “aware local tour operators, attractions, restaurants and ticketed events are not seeing the follow on effect from the marketing activities thus far”.

“This is also in part, due to some states’ borders being close or in the case of (South Australia’s) Circuit Breaker, other states closing their border to those travelling back to South Australia,” the documents state.

“In addition, some of the state restrictions have made it difficult for some businesses to reopen and trade profitably.

“For these reasons, the third iteration of the Great State Voucher will focus on providing revenue streams for local tour operators, attractions, restaurants and ticket events.”

Tourism Industry Council CEO Shaun de Bruyn told InDaily earlier this month that it was “critical” that touring and experience operators were added to the list of participating vendors as they were some of the hardest-hit businesses from the coronavirus pandemic.

He today described the proposed third round of vouchers as a “fantastic initiative to expand what has been a very successful program”.

“The sooner the better,” de Bruyn said.

“Anything that can be done to support operators right now or as soon as possible would be welcomed.”

De Bruyn said tour operators wanted the Government to hand out $100 vouchers to locals to replace the absence of interstate or international tourists who usually make up to the bulk of their customers.

“We think that would make a significant difference if you were seeing consumers purchasing tours that they otherwise wouldn’t purchase if there was a $100 voucher attached to it,” he said.

“Forward bookings for tour operators are looking very challenging.

“We’re seeing businesses that look after self-drive customers having extremely strong if not record activity, but what we’re seeing with tour operators is, because they rely on interstate and overseas markets much more heavily, they are really struggling.”

One such tour operator, owner of SA-based company See Adelaide and Beyond, Dallas Coull, told InDaily that “one incentive fits all” vouchers might not help all businesses.

“Anything is preferable to nothing but we just need to work out what’s in the best interest of our segment of the industry,” he said.

“For us it’s all about capacity – if we’re running tours without as many people then we’re losing money.

“For some operators, they might have to commit to travelling and then they haven’t got enough people to make it commercially viable.”

Coulls said about 98 per cent of his usual customer base travelled from interstate or overseas and any incentive that helped keep tour operators in business until interstate and international borders reopened would be useful.

“As a tour operator, all I’m interested in is getting through to when international and interstate borders are open and we can trade,” he said.

“We are a tourism operator that caters to an international or interstate market, simply because domestically people drive to places themselves.

“That’s why things like JobKeeper have been so important to us because if we can keep the wheels turning and we don’t have that huge wage commitment we would be pushed under.”

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is preparing to axe the JobKeeper scheme in March as part of the Government’s shift in focus to create new jobs.

The imminent cut-off date has the hospitality sector worried, with Hospitality Owners Collective co-founder Simone Douglas, who also owns the Duke of Brunswick, telling InDaily many smaller operators would struggle to stay open to reap the rewards of the discount vouchers.

She welcomed the Government’s plan to extend the Great State Vouchers scheme to restaurants but said it was “a band-aid at the end of the day” with the imminent end to JobKeeper and other rent protections.

“Rent relief agreements with landlords will start to fall away, protection from eviction, protection from going into administration or issues around finance will end,” she said.

“What you’ve got is a whole heap of businesses that are scrambling at the moment to try and make as much money as they can.

“Anything the Government can do is helpful, but I think a lot of the smaller operators are concerned about things like the loss of JobKeeper while they’re still trying to play catch-up and get back to a financially-viable position whilst restrictions are in place.”

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