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Hotel industry warns of slowdown, closures

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UPDATED: South Australia’s hospitality industry is facing its “most challenging” time in living memory, the industry body warns, with hotel vacancies down by 20 per cent and some operators facing closure as coronavirus fears cause wide disruption.

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Australian Hotels Association SA general manager Ian Horne told InDaily the Federal Government’s two-week self-isolation policy for people returning from overseas and bans on mass gatherings had dried up demand for city hotels, which are normally at 70 per cent capacity at this time of year but are currently only about 50 per cent full.

It comes as the Adelaide City Council will tonight hold an emergency public meeting at Town Hall to discuss how to control the spread of coronavirus in the city.

Horne said the hotel industry had taken a hit from people cancelling functions or business travel as the country grapples with the disease, which has so far infected 22 people in South Australia.

“We were to some extent cushioned because we’ve had this fabulous run from January with the Tour Down Under right through to the (Adelaide Superloop 500) car race, WOMADelaide, the festivals and the Fringe, but that’s all come to a halt now and it’s a whole new set of circumstances that hotels are facing,” he said.

“People are questioning do they even go out for a meal do they go and meet their friends at the local? So it’s a challenging time and we’re just at the beginning of it.

“Things are happening so quickly – just between Friday and Monday the Government has intervened at a significant level in terms of its policies… so it’s a set of circumstances that have not been seen in the hotel industry’s living memory.

“It is the most challenging time we’ve seen.” 

Horne said there was “no question” that some hotels and restaurants in the city would close as a result of the decreased demand, or that casual staff would be laid off to cope with the economic downturn.

He said the hotels association was providing “high level” legal advice to its members to inform managers about what obligations they have to protect workers’ jobs, as well as information on cleaning practices to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The association is also working with the SA Tourism Commission to determine what needs to happen over the coming months to “rebuild our profile and be ready when this (coronavirus) starts to clear to remind people that South Australia is still a fabulous place to visit”. 

“We’re going into our quiet months through winter and clearly we’re going to be confronted with this for some time,” Horne said.

“Whether you’re a hotel operator with 400 rooms or a café here in the city, the impacts are different but they are no less significant or severe.

“We all rely on the Federal and State Governments to implement practices that will minimise the pain and maximise the opportunities when we’re in the clear.”

Hospitality union United Workers Union has been contacted for comment.

The Adelaide City Council is yet to announce whether it will proceed with its #myadelaide advertising campaign, launched last week, which encourages people to shop, dine, socialise or stay in hotels in the city.

On Friday the Federal Government placed a ban – effective today – on all “non-essential gatherings” of more than 500 people.

City councillors will gather at Town Hall at 5pm for an emergency public meeting to receive an update about the council’s efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Lord Mayor Sandy Verschoor said in a statement this morning that the council “acknowledges that this is a unique and rapidly changing situation and we are closely following Federal and State Government advice and sharing information when possible”.

“I have called a special council meeting, which will be held in public at 5pm, so we can hear directly from SA Health and our administration, and discuss what more we can do to support our residents, businesses and visitors,” she said.

A council spokesperson was unable to provide specific information about what will be discussed.

Meanwhile, the spread of coronavirus has caused widespread disruption across the city as health authorities advise people to self-isolate and avoid unnecessary contact.

Chief judge of the District Court Michael Evans today announced that all jury trials would be suspended until May, but judge alone criminal trials, pre-trial arguments, bail applications, guilty pleas, arraignments and civil trials would continue as normal.

Chief justice Chris Kourakis this afternoon said a criminal jury trial proceeded today after the jurors were consulted and special arrangements were put in place to maximise social distancing.

The next jury trial listed in the Supreme Court is scheduled for April.

All three major SA universities have suspended public events including graduation ceremonies until further notice, but lectures and tutorials will continue as normal while staff receive advice on non-contact teaching practices.

Rundle Mall is trading as normal, with general manager Johanna Williams telling InDaily in a statement that the ban on mass gatherings does not impact trading “at this stage”.

“The Rundle Mall Management Authority is currently taking advice from the relevant authorities and City of Adelaide, as well as implementing additional health and safety measures in the Mall to keep our community safe whilst still providing access to products and services,” she said.

“We encourage South Australians to continue to visit Rundle Mall to support traders.”

Similarly, the Adelaide Central Market management says the ban on public gatherings will not impact trading “at this stage”.

It said in a statement yesterday that it would increase cleaning, provide hand sanitiser at “key locations” and give advice to traders on food safety and handling.

“We would like to strongly encourage all customers to continue to visit the market to support our traders and the extensive network of small businesses who supply our market,” the statement said.

However, the organisers of major food event Tasting Australia have decided to postpone this year’s festival, which was due to start next Friday.

The festival is working to potentially move the event to October or November, but no date has been confirmed.

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