THE Accommodation Association is supportive of the Victorian Government support measures announced today, saying they would provide "much needed relief for hotels, motels and accommodation providers hit hard by the state’s COVID restrictions, snap shutdowns and border closures"

Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long said, “On behalf of Victoria’s hotels, motels and accommodation providers, we welcome this acknowledgment from the State Government of the devastating impact of its coronavirus circuit-breaker strategy and look forward to continuing to work closely to get the balance right in successfully managing the risk. 

“Hotels and motels simply aren’t businesses that can stop and start suddenly," Mr Long said. "This most recent shutdown ahead of the Valentine Day weekend, one of the busiest times of the year, came after most dining and bar facilities and hotels had stocked up in anticipation.

"It would be great to get to the point where we had greater transparency around the decision frameworks all State and Territory Governments are using, including Victoria, so that we can appropriately plan.”

Mr Long said the Accommodation Association continued to work closely with Victoria’s Tourism Industry Council to ensure the tourism industry would receive support to offset the impact of Government-mandated closures.
 
The $143 million Circuit Breaker Support Package consists of:

  1. A new $92 million Business Costs Assistance Program with grants of $2000 for businesses in the tourism, hospitality, food wholesaling, events and selected retail industries with an annual payroll of up to $3 million;
  2. A $24.9 million boost to the Licensed Hospitality Venue Fund which will see previous recipients receive a one-off $3000 payment per premises;
  3. The $16.2 million Victorian Accommodation Support Program which recognises the hit of cancellations on regional and metropolitan accommodation providers allowing providers with 10 and under cancellations to apply for $2250 per business and those with more than 10 cancellations to apply for $4500 per business;
  4. A $10 million injection to expand the Regional Travel Voucher Scheme to include a new Melbourne Travel Voucher with 40,000 vouchers for $200 for travel in greater Melbourne plus an additional 10,000 vouchers in regional Victoria.

The Accommodation Association represents close to 3,500 hotels, motels and accommodation providers, over 150,000 rooms and nearly 100,000 employees across Australia (pre COVID) and over 500 operators in Victoria. Mr Long said accommodation contributed $17 billion to the Australian economy and $1.5 billion to the Victorian economy.

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DOMESTIC TRAVEL has replaced less than 20 percent of the revenue received from international visitors, with most export tourism businesses reliant on the JobKeeper supplement to get them this far, according to the Australian Tourism Export Council’s (ATEC) industry Pulse Check taken in January.

With borders closed and export tourism businesses unable to access their international markets, 60 percent are running at less than 50 percent of their staff and service capacity, with most only surviving with the support of the JobKeeper supplement.

“Australian tourism businesses have hung on with the support of JobKeeper but face annihilation once the program ends next month if the government fails to provide further support,” ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said. The JobKeeper program is scheduled to wrap up at the end of March.

“Australia’s tourism industry has spent the past 12 months battling enormous setbacks, from bushfires to floods and the COVID crisis which has closed international borders and left tourism businesses with no customers,” Mr Shelley said.

ATEC is now calling on the Federal Government to provide further financial support to the tourism industry and specifically the export tourism businesses which are unable to operate at anywhere near their previous levels.

“Tourism businesses were optimistic that by now international borders would be open and they would be seeing visitors return, but all indications are that these businesses face yet another tough year," he said. 

“State and Territory governments need to provide certainty in the way they respond to COVID outbreaks and a clear path to reopening international travel that appropriately manages the health risk and effective roll out of vaccines in order to give our industry certainty into the future.”

The export tourism industry Pulse Check looked at how Australia’s export tourism businesses have fared over the past 12 months.

The report found that around 60 percent of tourism businesses were running at less than 50 percent of staff and service capacity.

About 75 percent of tourism businesses have been able to supplement some of their revenue with domestic visitors, and this spend represents less than 20 percent of income lost from overseas visitors.

ATEC research shows about 55 percent of tourism businesses will not survive until September without some kind of government support, while international borders remain closed.

About 95 percent of inbound tour operators (ITOs), who are key tourism export intermediaries, have revenue of less than 10 percent compared with 2019.

Furthermore, 50 percent of ITOs are unable to attract domestic business and for those who have this represents less than 10 percent of their international markets.

ATEC predicts about 80 percent of ITOs "will be gone by September" without some kind of government support, making it much harder for the inbound tourism industry to restart.

 “Through no fault of their own, successful tourism businesses from across the country have been decimated by a series of setbacks that culminated with the international border closures," Mr Shelley said.
 
“These are the same businesses which were instrumental in delivering $45 billion in export revenue in 2019 and delivering thousands of jobs to regional communities throughout the country and they will be the ones which will provide future jobs and economic prosperity.
 
“Given the success of our export tourism industry over the past decade which saw international visitors contributing more than $350 billion in our economy, we must ensure these businesses survive," he said.
 
“Once the borders reopen, these businesses will quickly rebound and once again contribute significantly to our export earnings, support regional economies and build back Australian jobs.”

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CARAVANS and camping are now the most popular holiday accommodation types for Australians coming to terms with an extended COVID travel environment.

Caravanning and camping accounts for 44 percent of all holiday nights across Australia, according to the latest insights from Tourism Research Australia (TRA) for the September 2020 quarter.

The insights revealed that more than 1.9 million caravan and camping holidays were undertaken by Australians nationally, creating 8.4 million nights for the September Quarter 2020 alone. 

While this represented national declines of –28% and –14% respectively from 2019, this was well ahead of broader tourism numbers.

Caravan Industry Association of Australia CEO Stuart Lamont said, “We welcome the comments by the Prime Minister earlier in the week on the importance of domestic tourism to Australia’s visitor economy and whilst caravan and camping visitor numbers still remain down on 2019, the latest data from TRA reaffirms the important role caravan and camping has in driving the economic recovery of the visitor economy.  

“We live in a world of fragile consumer confidence at present creating a two-speed economy. Whilst it is important that governments make health the first priority for Australians, concerns remain for those operators and communities in border towns, transit regions and remote locations that are continuing to feel the financial pain of border closures and are not enjoying the spoils of Australia’s fascination with the caravan and camping lifestyle.”

With the everchanging environment of border closures, the devastating and long-lasting impacts of last season’s bushfires, and challenges with accessing insurance, many businesses still face the real prospect of closure. 

"We call on government to look at other support programs as JobKeeper comes to an end in March, such as concessional funding for tourism operators that is paid back once a return to profit occurs coupled with increased access to business advisory services to help operators pivot to new opportunities and manage cashflow, as well as personal tax deductions for domestic holiday travel to encourage increase demand in support of these struggling businesses," Mr Lamont said.

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THE Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has congratulated Dan Tehan on his appointment to the role of Australian Minister for Tourism.

ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said Minister Tehan had been a long time supporter of the tourism industry, demonstrated by his previous role as the chair of the Coalition Friends of Tourism group which engages industry on government policy to helps drive tourism growth and jobs across many electorates. 

“His electorate of Wannon, being the home of the famous Twelve Apostles landmark in Victoria, Minister Tehan has had a long and engaged commitment to the tourism sector and understands its economic importance for hundreds of regional communities throughout Australia," Mr Shelley said.

“As we navigate the reopening of borders and what will be a hugely changed international marketplace, our industry’s ability to work with the Government will be vital and we look forward to building a strong relationship with Minister Tehan during this time.

“The past year has been a hugely challenging time for Australia’s tourism industry and our road to recovery will be long, particularly for those businesses primarily focused on the export sector,” he said.

“Australian tourism exports have fallen from $49 billion a year to next to nothing, but we are determined to see the restart of this hugely successful industry which contributes so much to our economy.

“The path ahead will be different from the one we have been on but it also provides us with an opportunity to reshape ourselves as the tourism industry of the future which embraces new technology, new markets and a new type of visitor."

ATEC has also welcomed the new Immigration Minister, Alex Hawke and Jonathan Duniam as Assistant Minister for Industry Development and thanked former Tourism Minister, Simon Birmingham "for the commitment he has shown to strengthening our industry and lifting the industry’s profile as an important economic contributor and look forward to our continued relationship as he moves to the Finance portfolio".

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s (ASBFEO) office has been inundated by survey responses from distressed travel agents who testify their businesses have been "decimated" by the COVID crisis.

Ombudsman Kate Carnell said more than 1,000 travel agents had completed ASBFEO’s online survey since it was launched on October 16.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response from mum-and-dad travel agents who are in a world of pain,” Ms Carnell said.

“In just a few days, we have heard from hundreds of travel agents -- 98 percent of which say they have seen their revenue plunge by more than 75 percent since COVID restrictions were introduced in March.

“More than half have told us their revenue has plummeted by over 100 percent meaning they have been paying more out in refunds, including previously made revenue, than they are selling in new business. 

“These travel agents are working around the clock to negotiate refunds from travel companies and airlines for their customers. In fact 56 percent of these small businesses have said they would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensure their customers were refunded for holidays they could no longer take," Ms Carnell said.

“It’s important to understand that deposits paid by customers are passed on to travel providers (cruise ship or tour companies for instance) minus the commission for the travel agent. The challenge for the travel agent is to get back the deposit, particularly from offshore companies that are also under enormous financial pressure.

“If these small business owners were to walk away without facilitating customer refunds, there would understandably be a public outcry," she said. "However, these travel agents’ businesses are losing money by staying open and working to do the right thing for their customers.

“Sadly, nearly all (98%) of the travel agents impacted by the COVID restrictions have reported their businesses were growing prior to this crisis.

“At this early stage, we are still consulting with the industry regarding what assistance is required, but it is clear that a targeted response will be needed," Ms Carnell said.

“With international travel restrictions likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, this is an incredibly difficult situation for small businesses in the tourism sector, but my office will be working towards making economically sensible recommendations to the government that will help travel agents in the near term.”

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has called for an urgent response from the Federal Government regarding a critical support package for travel agents who have been decimated by the COVID crisis.

Ms Carnell said close to 1,300 distressed travel agents completed ASBFEO’s online survey last month and have been clinging by a thread as they wait to hear if there will be a lifeline announced by the Federal Government.

“These travel agents, most of whom are small businesses, need help now,” Ms Carnell said.

“Our survey showed that the situation is dire for these travel agents – 98 percent of which told us their revenue has plunged by more than 75 percent since COVID restrictions were introduced in March.

“More than half told us their revenue is down by over 100 percent, meaning they have been paying out more in refunds, including previously made revenue, than they are selling in new business. 

“It’s clear these small businesses are in a world of pain and a support package should be announced as a matter of urgency," Ms Carnell said.

“We know travel agents are working hard to negotiate refunds from travel companies and airlines for their customers. In fact 56 percent of these small businesses said they would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensure customers were reimbursed for the holidays they could no longer take.

“Travel agents have been faced with enormous challenges to get back the deposits paid to travel providers such as offshore cruise ship or tour companies on behalf of their customers. A number of travel agents have complained about Qantas specifically, in terms of the length of time it is taking to refund customers.

“If these small business owners were to walk away now, customers would be unlikely to get a refund. That said, travel agents are losing money by keeping their businesses open as they try to do the right thing for their customers.," she said.

“With international travel restrictions likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, this is an incredibly difficult situation for small businesses in the tourism sector, but travel agents are among the hardest hit and they will need targeted support to continue the important work they are doing.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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THE  Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to backing recommendations which have come out of the independent review into the administration of the Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme.

ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said as a leading, future focused industry, tourism businesses would be at the forefront of Australia’s economic recovery and EMDG grants will support the success of tourism exporters.

“We are pleased the government has adopted in-principle the recommendations of the review and particularly those put forth by ATEC on behalf of Australia’s export tourism industry,” Mr Shelley said. 

“Changes to the administration of the scheme and how the rules are applied will be removed from the legislation, making it more flexible and adaptable to the needs of the industry and the evolving nature of export markets. Flexibility in the administration of the EMDG program has been something ATEC has been asking for for a long time.

“It's also important to ensure tourism businesses who access these grants are ready for export, having completed a quality training program which gives them the essential tools they need to maximise export success.

“Changing the funding model so that businesses receive grants before they embark on their international marketing strategies will help our cash strapped tourism businesses to rebuild their markets as we head out of this crisis," he said.

Mr Shelley said the success of Australia’s tourism export sector has been an enviable part of the economy delivering one in 12 jobs and more than $350 billion in traveller spending over the past decade.

“For all of its success, the tourism industry has required little by way of government support or oversight and while the industry has been able to grow and prosper off its own steam, there is now a vital role for the Government to play in supporting the industry through this crisis and back to operational success," Mr Shelley said.

“We look forward to working closely with the government on the revised scheme’s rules, design and guidelines in the coming months.”

Read about the review recommendations here.

www.tourismdrivesgrowth.com.au

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