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Tourism businesses want more federal government support with household spending dropping to lockdown levels as the latest outbreak of COVID-19 worsens.
The Australian Tourism Export Council managing director Peter Shelley is warning that operators have not been able to bring in the revenue they expected over the summer holidays as the Omicron variant spreads.
The summer holidays have not given the tourism industry the take off some businesses wanted.
“Everybody was looking forward to the Christmas holidays to try and get some revenue and get their businesses back on track after all the challenges of the last two years. But sadly the holidays presented a more frustrating and stressful time than business owners expected,” Mr Shelley said.
“People are taking their own measures to prevent themselves from picking up COVID and there’s a self-imposed lockdown happening. That’s making it a bad time for the tourism and hospitality … The industry desperately needs cash flow to start recovering.
“And you’ve got the challenge all industries are facing to keep doors open when staff are in lockdown for being close contacts, there’s a staff shortage.”
Recently released data from ANZ bank shows major cities, including Sydney and Melbourne, are in shadow lockdowns with households spending at levels similar to when governments imposed major restrictions.
A spokesman for Austrade, the federal government’s trade, investment and education promotion agency, said since March 2020 the Commonwealth has provided more than $20 billion in assistance to the sector including through the wage subsidy scheme JobKeeper, the business cash flow boost and targeted support programs.
“The Commonwealth and state and territory governments have also delivered additional, targeted lockdown support under a cost sharing agreement with more than $1 billion provided for the tourism and hospitality sector over the past six months,” he said.
Mr Shelley, who is based in Sydney, said metropolitan areas were faring worse than regional locations but said until international tourism opened up more there would be difficulties.
“People are locking themselves down, the tourism industry is still under enormous stress and any support the government can provide now while there is a surge [in case numbers] would be desperately needed,” he said.
Forecasts from Tourism Research Australia suggest domestic tourism will recover strongly this year following total losses between March 2020 and June 2021 of $101.7 billion.
Overall, domestic tourism is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels in 2022-2023 and the forecasts suggest visitor nights will reach their previous peak in all states by 2023-24 and a year earlier in Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
However, the report was prepared before the latest Omicron wave took hold and the case numbers started dramatically escalating. One of the risks identified in the report was for “major, uncontrollable outbreaks of the virus” affecting traveller confidence.
Health Minister Greg Hunt, who was asked about the tourism industry in North Queensland during a press conference on Sunday, said the government’s focus had been on health and support.
“Of all the countries in the world, we have one of the highest vaccination rates, one of the lowest rates of loss of life, and we have one of the strongest economic recoveries, and we have provided as a government enormous support to businesses, to health and to the community,” he said, adding there are different approaches across states in terms of international arrivals.
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