The impacts of the pandemic have hit the tourism industry hard and regional areas are far from immune to the challenges being faced. Australian Regional Tourism (ART) is calling for targeted support for regional tourism businesses to not only bolster recovery now, but action to drive a stronger, more resilient industry for the future.
JobKeeper payments have been a lifeline to so many businesses and with the program set to conclude at the end of March, extremely tough times are ahead for operators in some regional destinations. The fears and challenges being faced are further exacerbated by domestic border closures and endless snap announcements from State and Territory Governments.
While JobKeeper has been the saviour for so many it has been far from a perfect solution, instead causing a range of other challenges, including ability to access and keep skilled staff.
Frustrations are now brewing around the perception that tourism in regional Australia has recovered, when the overly optimistic sentiment could not be further from reality.
ART Chair Coralie Bell said just this time last year, regional tourism businesses were in the depths of a bushfire crisis, devastation that was faced on the back of prolonged drought, and quickly followed by floods and then COVID-19.
"Positive signs are visible in some destinations, with businesses experiencing good trade over the recent summer weeks, but the goal of 'recovery' is far from achieved," Ms Bell said.
"There have been enough handouts, we want to see the industry come out of bushfires and COVID-19 stronger and ready to thrive - not just survive until the money stops!"
ART is advocating for governments to partner with industry to provide support that is linked to outcomes that strengthen the industry to not only survive, but to develop robust businesses ready to pull through future challenges.
The regional visitor economy needs urgent action to provide:
Reliable and useful tourism data to support sustainable planning and decision-making,
Initiatives that support regional dispersal, we know visitors will travel 3-4 hours from major population centres and this ongoing challenge has only been amplified,
Programs and initiatives to address skills shortages, and
Industry development to build a stronger and more resilient communities.
"All levels of government need to work together to enable key infrastructure to support tourism growth into the future, from new parks to sporting precincts, better tourism road access and more global connectivity, the lists are already put together - let's get it done."
"The growth of sustainable businesses in regional Australia is not a new conversation, the needs of industry are as they've always been with the urgency skyrocketing, but this doesn't mean more public money handouts," Ms Bell said.