‘Unable to See Future’: Queensland Tourism Operators Fear State Won’t Stick to Covid Vaccination Plan | Tourism (Australia)
There haven’t been many days lately that Roderic Rees had so many customers coming from his Cairns tourism business that he needed more than two hands to count them.
On his best day since leaving far north Queensland a fortnight ago, Rees saw 25 customers walk through his doors. However, in most cases he got used to seeing five or six people.
“We run tours at a loss most of the time just to give our staff something to do,” Rees, who heads the Cairns Adventure Group, said this week.
“Things are in a pretty dire state, certainly the worst since the start of the pandemic. We are excluded from more than 90% of our customers with no real end in sight. “
Since interstate travel was decimated by lockdowns in eastern Australia starting in late June, Rees has seen the work of the 74 employees on his payroll dry up. He began to “invent work” for those who would usually make a living by touring or servicing.
“I have guys who do anything, little renovations, that sort of thing. I have a few guys who garden at my house. Just whatever I can find for them, ”he says.
Following the loss of the job retention supplement, Rees, like most tour operators, is frustrated with the Queensland and federal governments for not agreeing on a separate support payment tourism like those announced in Western Australia this week.
But beyond calls for help, the latest battleground in Australia’s pandemic debate has left businesses and tourism operators worried about the heads of state in Queensland and Western Australia who remain. politically linked to Covid-zero.
This week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged prime ministers to stick to the four-phase national strategy endorsed by all heads of state in July, which would see restrictions gradually eased once levels of 70% and 80% vaccination would be achieved.
Morrison warned prime ministers abandoning the plan would risk breaking an “agreement with the Australian people” while Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned states not to “expect Commonwealth aid continue “at the same level once these objectives are achieved.
The comments came following insistence by Labor Prime Ministers in Western Australia and Queensland to reserve the right to continue with border closures in light of the sustained outbreaks of Delta in New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the possible need for lockdown in the event of an increase in the number of Covids in their own states.
In Queensland, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk insisted that until New South Wales controls its outbreak, “the hard border remains”, while Washington State Premier Mark McGowan put his political reputation on the line by keeping the virus completely out of state. He designated NSW as an “extreme risk,” meaning even compassionate grounds won’t be enough for a travel permit, while saying the state wants to keep trying to “run over and kill” the. virus.
While this rhetoric has proven to be politically popular among voters – McGowan and Palaszczuk were both convincingly re-elected during the pandemic – those who have suffered the brunt of Covid’s harsh politics are increasingly frustrated by a sense of change of purpose.
Mark Olsen, managing director of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, told Guardian Australia that hints that prime ministers were moving away from the roadmap felt like they had “the rug under us again”.
“The biggest challenge in dealing with Covid is certainty, everyone wants to know how we can recover some of what has been lost, so when the national cabinet released a roadmap with clear benchmarks, people started putting those numbers on whiteboards and saying OK, we can start working on our business plans, ”he said.
“It created a sense of hope and gave us a goal: How do we support and encourage people to get vaccinated so that we can achieve these goals. You are now back to a situation where employees are unable to see a future in our industry and employers are unable to predict when and for how long their business will be viable.
This week, the Queensland Tourism and Transport Forum released a study it says shows Cairns regions will cut another 3,150 tourism jobs by Christmas this year, reducing the workforce to the half its size before the pandemic.
But it’s not just the sunshine state that feels the pain. This week, the WA Tourism Council called on the government of that country to introduce mandatory vaccinations for people arriving from other states on December 1 in a bid to encourage the resumption of interstate travel.
The proposal was quickly rejected by McGowan, at least in the short term, saying it would not be introduced “for the time being.”
“The problem is, even when you’re vaccinated, you can pass it on,” McGowan said.
But Evan Hall, the board’s chief executive, said he believed it was “inevitable” that the policy would eventually be introduced, and said the industry wanted “notice.”
“I think there is a general acceptance in the tourism industry, as well as throughout Washington state, that sooner or later we have to move to resume interstate travel,” he said. .
“When and how you do it is the issue and I think for WA, when you’re Covid-free you have to make a conscious choice not to be Covid-free, so I think that’s what WA is grappling with. . “
While McGowan has ensured the state’s economy “thrives” despite border closures, Hall said many tour operators are grappling with financial and emotional strain.
“I think a lot of companies are really in financial trouble and frankly they report being in emotional distress and this is partly due to the lack of concern about the state of their businesses,” he said. he declares.
“I’ll be frank, part of it is a lack of concern, not only on the part of the government but of the community. There is, I think, a lack of empathy for business leaders but also for their employees and the industries that depend on them.