The impacts of the bushfire smoke not only proved disastrous for the lungs of Canberrans but also for local businesses who took a hit as their trade fell off over the hazardous periods.
To help revitalise the local economy, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has announced new measures to cut costs for businesses that wish to trial outdoor dining, potentially saving them thousands of dollars.
There is currently a one-month free trial for businesses to activate the use of public space, but from 1 February applicants will receive a 12-month free trial.
There will be no upfront costs for 12 months and fees for existing outdoor permits will be reduced by 50 per cent, Chief Minister Barr said.
“The ACT Government is halving outdoor permit fees and this new initiative will apply to all of those who currently have a permit,” he said.
“Anyone who has recently renewed or paid their permit fees will be credited or refunded the discount that we are applying, but this will be a permanent and ongoing measure to support Canberra’s hospitality industry.
“We are also expanding a trial where new businesses who are trying outdoor dining for the first time were given a one month free permit. We are extending that to a one-year free permit.
“What we are trying to encourage here is more Canberra businesses to utilise outdoor spaces, and to try outdoor dining in a relatively risk-free way.”
The announcement has been made after a tourism and hospitality industry roundtable hosted by the government to discuss ways to support the local tourism industry during the unprecedented period of smoky conditions. The measure was part of the mid-year budget update, but has been brought forward and expanded after consultation with the industry, Mr Barr said.
“Some businesses were down 90 per cent, for others in the hospitality sector, business is contingent on what the air quality on any given day is, and on those days that it was really terrible outdoor trade was virtually non-existent,” Mr Barr said.
“Some of the businesses had to close. Undoubtedly, tourism has taken a hit right across southern NSW and the ACT, so we will have some more tourism announcements coming to help give confidence for the future.”
Mr Barr said the government has 250 permits with businesses across the city. One of these businesses is Bittersweet, a café in Kingston with an extensive outdoor sitting area.
Bittersweet director Dan Rayner said that business has definitely taken a hit over the last few months and this new initiative will help ease the financial burden.
“The last couple of months has been pretty hard going, especially with the unusually hot weather and crazy smoke from the fires, so it has been a bit rough for the outside areas.
“Most people choose to sit inside now even though most of our seating is outside.
“This announcement is a welcome relief in terms of our bottom line and our margins, it has helped us a lot.”
The local café is set to save thousands of dollars, which can then be reinvested back into the business, with 50 per cent of their trade being conducted outside.
“There was a significant reduction in customers and we had to reduce our staffing,” Mr Rayner said.
“Certainly we would prefer to have our staff inside, especially during the smoke. We are always looking to make our business better, so this reinvestment will be great.
“I hope other businesses trial the license to operate outside. If I were starting up a business now I would definitely take up the opportunity for free outdoor seating for the first year, that sounds great.”
More information on outdoor dining permits and how to apply for one is available on the Access Canberra website at www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au.