By Graeme Kemlo

Melbourne has relaxed its grip on the workplace and this week CBD offices are back, staff caps are in, hot desks are out, masks are down and the business events sector is still waiting to assess the full extent of the COVID damage.

Clearly the industry is largely dependent on businesses who now feel the need to eyeball their staff – to train or retrain, motivate their success, gather for professional development or reward achievement.  And whatever the new normal is, we’re unlikely to know until federal stimuli like JobKeeper dries up at the end of March.  Anecdotally, more than 30 per cent of employees in the hospitality and tourism sector are receiving JobKeeper.

State government stimulus packages, such as the $200 family allowance has been targeted at the leisure sector, and has not flowed through to the higher yield business tourism sector in Victoria.

For a city whose recent tourism success has largely been built around major events, the hope that the F1 Grand Prix might save some of the hospitality businesses and thousands of jobs this quarter, has all but evaporated. Now scheduled for November, industry leaders are trying to make the best of the situation saying it will be a more interesting time to stage the race towards the end of the year, but for the 300,000 or more who watch trackside at Albert Park, it is more about the smell, the sound, the thrills and spills than who wins the constructor’s championship; the only premiership that really matters in Melbourne is AFL… and the financial benefits normally accruing to the heartland of footy were also denied Melbourne in 2020 due to COVID-19. Ditto the spring racing carnival.

Now some of the gloss has been taken off the city’s other major Q1 event – the delayed Australian Open tennis. Already suffering from closed international borders and few foreign visitors, the use of charter flights has not stopped the virus from hitching a ride and has forced hotel quarantine on some unhappy, under-prepared players. Apart from social distancing restrictions, the February start date probably precludes many interstate visitors who combine a vacation with the tennis at Melbourne Park.

While health and safety is clearly a concern for all, it seems that any revival of the industry’s fortunes is dependent on removing the restrictions on Sydney-Melbourne flights, which was the world’s second busiest air route with nine million passengers a year.