The timing of recent COVID outbreaks and state border closures could not be worse for Australia’s beleaguered tourism industry.
On New Years Eve – the peak holiday period of the year – we witnessed Sydney’s Northern Beaches outbreak, which was soon met with states snapping their borders closed to NSW. A few of my friends, who were camping or had hired holiday homes in Southern NSW, were caught in the turmoil. They were given hours to pack up and drive back to Victoria or be forced into mandatory 14-day isolation. They queued at Victoria’s border checkpoint for hours and then queued for hours again the following day for a mandatory COVID test. All despite there being zero cases in regional NSW (outside of Wollongong).
One friend, who had been drinking prior to the Victorian Government’s 3pm New Years Eve announcement to immediately return home, could not drive back until the following day. Because they missed the midnight curfew, their whole family was plunged into mandatory 14-day home isolation.
Each of these tourists could not complete their trips and, therefore, wasted money on their bookings. The tourism operators lost more as forward bookings and spending was cancelled.
Fast forward to the Easter School Holidays – the second biggest holiday period of the year – and history is repeating. The nascent COVID outbreak in Brisbane has spread to Byron Bay in Northern NSW. Most state governments have already closed their borders to Greater Brisbane and Queensland, with Byron Bay also declared an ‘orange zone’ or COVID hotspot by some.
Holiday plans are once again being cancelled and the tourism industry is again reeling.
Deloitte’s latest Weekly economic briefing shows the extent to which the tourism industry is suffering. It shows that “international and interstate travel [was] down by 81% and 65%, respectively, in 2020”:
These declines correspond to 7.6 million fewer international arrivals, 45 million fewer domestic overnight trips and 84 fewer day trips in 2020 compared to 2019 levels. This results in a total combined loss of around $85 billion in visitor spend, including $40 billion loss in international and $45 billion loss in domestic spend.
With trigger happy state governments so willing to shut their borders at the earliest opportunity, as well as imposing mandatory isolation to people that have already arrived from these locations, how can the tourism industry recover?
The federal government can offer all the gimmicks that it likes, such as half priced airfares. But if Australians do not have confidence to travel, because of the perceived risks of lockdown, then they will stay put and keep their wallets closed.