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Struggling tour operators call for State Government voucher support

Business

The Tourism Industry Council of South Australia is urging the State Government to expand its second round of Great State Vouchers to include tour businesses, as operators struggle in the wake of the state’s second lockdown.

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Tourism industry council CEO Shaun de Bruyn said it was “critical” that touring and experience operators were added to the list of participating vendors in the state’s upcoming Great State Voucher program for the resilience of South Australia’s economic recovery.

“We need to have a strong recovery and … tour operators are critical businesses in that,” de Bruyn said.

“That’s a big reason why, in particular, leisure visitors will come to our state. They come here to take the tour experience and then they purchase all of these other services.

“People will see a visitor experience, for example, in the Flinders Ranges… and they’ll purchase hospitality services pre and post that tour.

“And that tour operator, when they’re out there showing them around, will also purchase a lot of other products from other tourism businesses.”

The council’s call follows the State Government’s announcement that a second round of $100 and $50 travel vouchers for use in city, North Adelaide, surburban and regional accommodation venues, would be available from January 5 (to be used by March 31).

Tourism SA’s first round of about 50,000 vouchers injected an estimated $10 million into the state’s visitor economy, at a cost of $4 million.

While the second round of vouchers have been expanded to entice interstate visitors into South Australia and to allow smaller operators to participate in the scheme, tour and attraction businesses remain excluded.

A State Government spokesperson said the government would “continue to look at ways to further strengthen and support South Australia’s tourism sector”.

“The SATC will continue to monitor the second round and liaise closely with industry, as well as investigating options for further tourism stimulus in 2021, including how we can help stimulate the tour and experiences sector,” the spokesperson said.

“Given how successful round one was, and the urgency to continue to stimulate the industry – round two was only announced a few weeks ago.

“By enticing people to book overnight stays in the CBD and the regions, it meant they had more time and more money to stay longer and to spend on the experiences and hospitality around them – the first round proved this to be the case.”

The tourism industry council said tour operators had seen “little to no recovery this past year as most rely on international markets and are unable to easily adapt their product to local visitors markets”.

It said these businesses had been further impacted by the “ever-changing density requirements” as a result of the changing restrictions and as such required “immediate support at this point in order to survive”.

One such tour operator, owner of SA-based company See Adelaide and Beyond, Dallas Coull, told InDaily business activity was down about 80 per cent compared with December 2019.

“I’m confused how a program that assists businesses that are probably having a record six months due to the boom in domestic travel is a good idea when there are businesses that cater to the interstate and international market who are down 80 per cent on the previous 12 months are not included,” he said.

“People don’t come to South Australia to stay in a room, they come to visit KI (Kangaroo Island), explore the rugged Eyre Peninsula, go shark cage diving or swimming with sea lions, try our world-famous wine in the Barossa, McLaren Vale or one of our other amazing regions.

“We should be promoting those types of tours, activities and attractions with a voucher scheme as these are the types of businesses that are doing it really tough.”

He said the business, which employed seven staff, had been dependent on the Federal Government’s JobKeeper payment to survive.

With JobKeeper due to finish early next year, Coull said it was important the business was successful over the next three months.

“I am extremely concerned about what happens in March when JobKeeper finishes … if we can’t have a solid summer season it will be difficult to maintain our staff over the winter period,” he said.

Coull said the business had just begun to bounce back from South Australia’s first lockdown when the second came into effect and “took out all of the momentum”.

“The last lockdown came at a really bad time,” he said.

“We had some good numbers on our Barossa and McLaren Vale tours from interstate, however as soon as that last lockdown was announced we received cancellation requests that go right through to the new year.

“People interstate simply lost confidence in coming to South Australia.”

Like Coull, fellow tour operator Kelly Kuhn said her businesses was experiencing a rebound from the state’s initial lockdown when the second shutdown occurred and all of her work disappeared.

“Essentially we’ve been about 30 per cent down for most of the year and then the latest lockdown was very problematic, because the confidence in the consumers was immediately lost,” the Juggle House Experiences owner said.

“We had our busiest week of the whole year planned for that week of lockdown and everything got cancelled.

“The phones didn’t ring again for another three weeks and then they’ve just started again.”

She said the business usually received 50 per cent of its income from international travellers – predominantly from New Zealand – with 40 per cent from within South Australia and 10 per cent interstate.

While Kuhn welcomed a trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand in 2021, she said attracting more national business through the Great State incentive scheme during the Christmas period would be “most valuable”.

“We’re really decimated at the moment because of our international market,” Kuhn said.

“We have to try and remain positive but if it doesn’t happen we’re still standing alone.”

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