Canberrans will not be able to come together for concerts, cultural or sporting events for the foreseeable future, while international tourism will be dead for years, Chief Minister Andrew Barr told a COVID-19 Legislative Assembly committee on Friday (17 April).
Mr Barr laid out the grim consequences for the ACT’s tourism sector of the coronavirus travel bans and social distancing measures after he had delivered his frank assessment to the Territory’s tourism industry in the morning.
The ACT has already lost major drawcards such as the National Folk Festival and Floriade to the virus, national institutions such as the National Gallery of Australia are closed, and sport, including national football competitions, is non-existent.
Even as governments dare to think that restrictions could be lifted and start to map out an exit strategy, Mr Barr said that any relaxation would not necessarily mean the cultural, sporting and tourism sectors could simply restart.
”It is very difficult to envisage a situation where any large-scale event would be possible, so even if there was a relaxation of the current very strict measures there would be no prospect of large community gatherings domestically in Australia for the foreseeable future.”
Calling it the most challenging year in the history of tourism in Canberra, Mr Barr said there should be no expectations of an international sector for many years now.
“It is unlikely that any effective suppression and elimination strategy of the virus could succeed in Australia while having any form of open international border.”
He said the virus had hit three of the ACT’s biggest source countries for tourists – China, the UK and the US – so travel from those areas could not be expected to resume any time soon.
In Australia, only the ACT, NSW and Victoria had open borders and non-essential travel could be met with fines.
”We are now in an environment where any domestic travel and tourism has effectively ceased,” he said.
Mr Barr said the best hope in the medium term was for some unlocking of state borders and some resumption of domestic tourism at some point after the winter.
“The challenge now in the domestic tourism space in coming months is to look to innovate, and provide a COVID-19-safe tourism environment, which would need to be a highly managed environment with small groups of people and small numbers,” he said.
Mr Barr had asked Visit Canberra to look at options for a modest restart for the industry at the appropriate time, and what marketing and industry partnerships could support it.