10 August 2021

Dark days for ACT tourism, and operators want answers from the Feds

| Ian Bushnell
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Old Parliament House

Stormclouds from the COVID lockdowns are threatening the survival of many tourism operators in the region. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberra tourism and hospitality representatives will give Federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan a hot reception when he fronts the monthly advisory forum on Friday at the Hyatt.

Mr Tehan has already been peppered with letters calling on the Commonwealth to extend support to struggling Canberra operators hard-hit by the pandemic’s travel restrictions.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr urged business leaders on Monday (9 August) to back his calls for more Commonwealth support for the sector.

Mr Barr has written to both Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Mr Tehan requesting a nationally consistent approach to support tourism and hospitality businesses and workers that have been affected by lockdowns elsewhere across the country.

He also asked that the Commonwealth consider extending the COVID-19 disaster payment to workers in the tourism and hospitality sectors – including those in the ACT – who have lost income because of outbreaks in other jurisdictions.

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Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum spokesperson David Marshall said his organisation had done the same, and it would have plenty of questions for Mr Tehan.

He said that because Canberra was not a declared hot spot, its tourism and hospitality sectors could not access critical Commonwealth funding.

They were being decimated, and other regions were in the same boat, Mr Marshall said.

“The questions we’ll be asking him will be pretty direct about Commonwealth funding, vaccinations, state lockdowns, the impacts on hotels and the hospitality sector across the country,” he said.

“There’s a stack of issues that we’ll be probing him to get some indication of where the industry is likely to be headed.”

Andrew Barr and David Marshall

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and David Marshall are both lobbying for more Commonwealth support for the ACT tourism and hospitality sector. Photo: File.

He said the national institutions were also being impacted and were struggling to maintain their permanent collections.

Canberra Excursions, which handles school visits to the national capital and maintains eight accommodation properties, had pretty well written off this year.

“That’s $160 million of economic benefit out the door. You can’t sustain that sort of loss,” Mr Marshall said.

Mr Marshall said the impact on the sector was much worse than last year and he feared many operators might be lost to the industry.

“This is another thing we’re going to tackle Dan Tehan on,” he said. “Some will never return because it’s just too volatile.”

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Mr Marshall said some had already decided that they had had enough and opted for something more secure, as had workers.

“I take calls every day from people who are in tears, their life savings are gone, and they don’t know what to do,” he said.

“I can’t advise them. They’ve either got to decide they want to stay in the industry or find another job. Quite a few of them have.”

The other issue facing the industry was a looming skills shortage once borders reopen and travel resumes.

“How are we going to maintain the quality of service and provide a quality visitor experience if, in fact, we haven’t got the staff to do it,” Mr Marshall said.

“Number one is migration and students – you suddenly realise how critical those students are.”

He said many Canberra hotels were barely operating at only 10 to 20 per cent capacity, and one hotel’s 100 per cent capacity was really only 80 per cent because they do not have the room staff to service the other 20 per cent.

“This is having a big impact on how they manage their room inventory,” he said.

Mr Marshal said the sector also wanted to know from government just what a 70 or 80 per cent vaccination rate will mean.

“How is it going to change our lives? What’s the expectation?” he said.

“Does it mean we forget the one person to two square metre rule, can have business events, tourists coming from interstate without any fear of a lockdown?”

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Capital Retro7:49 am 11 Aug 21

It will be many years before Canberra becomes re-established as a tourist destination. The problem started here: https://the-riotact.com/act-tourism-suffers-fallout-from-travel-ban-amid-covid-19-crisis/370563

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