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Opinion

Tourism industry needs help to survive emergency

Opinion

The tourism industry in SA and across Australia has been ravaged by pandemic and disaster and it’s vital that governments help to keep businesses and staff afloat until the emergency passes, writes Shaun de Bruyn.

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In the last 18 months, the tourism and hospitality industry in South Australia has recorded a 46 per cent decrease in expenditure due to the summer bushfires in 2019, drought and COVID-19 pandemic, with our once record-breaking $8.1 billion visitor economy now worth a mere $4.4 billion.

On behalf of tourism and hospitality businesses in South Australia, I recently penned a letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison to outline the dire state of the industry and the support businesses so desperately need to survive the toughest business conditions they have ever faced.

Our business owners and staff strongly support the desired health outcomes our leaders across the country have been working so hard to deliver.

However, each time there is a border closure or restriction imposed on everyday business and consumer activities, it has a dramatic impact on a tourism business’ ability to be financially sustainable.

The tourism and hospitality industry ended the last financial year severely emaciated financially and with very limited if not no reserves left, but with a glimmer of hope that the “worst” might be over.

Our industry at large is at a standstill.

Unfortunately, this hope subsided from the start of July 2021 with businesses dealt yet another blow from prolonged and recurring national lockdowns, as well as border closures that continue to prevent people from travelling.

Our daily engagement with operators paints a realistic, yet bleak picture of the current state of the industry and the immediate long-term economic outlook of the sector.

This anecdotal evidence is supported by a recent national industry survey conducted by the Australian Tourism Industry Council, which reports that 95 per cent of businesses were immediately impacted by interstate cancellations from the start of July 2021.

Furthermore, more than 80 per cent of respondents are now “worried” or “extremely worried” about their future.

To add to the concerns, many operators have now used the last of their resources or taken up even more debt in preparation for an expected strong winter season.

Many operators have either held onto staff or put on more staff to be ready to reap any benefit from improving business conditions.

Sadly, due to the latest lockdowns and diminished consumer confidence across the country, this has not materialised.

Meanwhile, all fixed business costs and regulatory fees and charges have continued to mount.

We acknowledge the effective, timely and targeted support measures provided over the past 18 months from the State and Federal Government, all of which have provided emotional and financial relief to countless operators.

But more needs to be done now to keep tourism and hospitality businesses afloat, particularly our small to medium-sized operators who are only just holding on.

The current eligibility of the Commonwealth COVID-19 Disaster Payment needs to be extended to employees of tourism and hospitality businesses in locations outside of the declared hotspots.

We currently have no international visitors; most interstate traffic is disrupted and current lockdowns in major population centres is preventing intrastate travel.

Our industry at large is at a standstill.

Industry is calling for the reintroduction of the flexibility provisions in the Fair Work Act that were put in place for employers during the JobKeeper period.

This will allow businesses to maintain relationships with employees and provide a degree of certainty to employees that their jobs are being protected.

The reinstatement of the Cashflow Boost program will also help to offset the cost of businesses retaining their employees.

At a state level, the Great State Vouchers have been hugely successful in building industry and consumer confidence, as well as stimulating spend across South Australia.

Industry wants to see future rounds of this program between now and the end of the year, incorporating accommodation, tours and attractions.

It is abundantly clear that the critical survival period for our tourism and hospitality industry is dependent on the success of the vaccine rollout.

Until we reach these targets, State and Federal Government will rightly need to prioritise the safety of local communities.

However, the economic and business consequences must be shared across all South Australians in the form of additional state and federal support.

Tourism has long been recognised as a key economic driver for Australia.

To save businesses and jobs, an appropriate level of support from our governments is critical.

We acknowledge that these support measures would amount to substantial government investments, but the cost of not assisting the industry would be far greater in the long run. Put simply, Australia cannot afford to have its tourism industry decimated.

Shaun de Bruyn is CEO of the Tourism Industry Council South Australia.

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