April 5 2021

By Graeme Kemlo

Victoria’s $32 billion tourism industry is losing tens of thousands of jobs and according to the state’s peak tourism body, has contributed $23 billion less to the Victorian economy since the start of 2020, with pandemic as well as bushfires responsible for the loss.

This is the dire prediction for Victoria’s tourism and events industry according to the Victoria Tourism Industry Council (VTIC).

At the end of 2019, the state’s tourism industry employed 250,000 people, including 110,000 in regional Victoria.

Releasing a 22-page research report and recommendations for recovery  on the eve of the Easter long weekend, VTIC says Melbourne and Victoria have also been hit harder than any other state.

According to the report, “Tourism spend in Victoria was worth over $32 billion by the end of 2019. Of that amount, visitors to Melbourne spent $20 billion, with 40 percent derived from international visitors and 32 percent coming from interstate travellers – highlighting the incredible challenge facing our capital city in the current environment”.

And while it says it is working with the Victorian government to assist the industry, VTIC is the third organisation in as many weeks to comment on the perceived lack of effective support for the business events sector. The Business Events Council of Australia (BECA) and the Australian Association of Convention Bureaux (AACB) commented last week.

Last month VTIC criticised the Federal Government’s half-price airfare arrangement saying it was “a half-way support package for the tourism industry, and will disadvantage Victoria”.

Tourism operators micenet has spoken to in regional Victoria said the support packages, including a $200 family voucher had not generated new business and were mostly being claimed by people who had existing bookings.

And while regional Victoria is understood to have had a bumper Easter with many towns booked out, VTIC CEO, Felicia Mariani said on March 11 the half-price tickets deal to 13 destinations would “cannibalise Victorian tourism”.

Issuing VTIC’s “blueprint for recovery”, she said an original submission in June 2020 could not have foreseen the 112-day lockdown Victoria went on to face and that this event set Victoria four months behind the rest of Australia. The lockdown and continuing restrictions on national and international travel were behind VTIC’s decision to revise its original submission.

The submission seeks State Government support for “underfunded or unfunded” initiatives based on the most up-to-date data and emerging issues.  Chief among the requests is $17 million a year for four years for Melbourne Convention Bureau “for aggressive recruitment of national business events”.

It has also asked for $40 million a year for four years for Visit Victoria;  a $100 million Relief and Survival Package for the events sector and its related supply chain; longer term funding to support the re-attraction of events and festivals lost to other states and major international businesses events back to Melbourne; creation of a Product Development and Innovation Fund ($200 million per annum over four years) to support major attraction and infrastructure improvement across Victoria; plus $29 million a year over four years to attract direct airline services back to Melbourne and Avalon airports.

The report includes a February 2021 survey of 554 businesses in the sector which concluded that more than a third of businesses are poised to cut jobs by up to 50 per cent or more and a further 13 percent are expecting to close their doors when JobKeeper ended. When asked to explain why, responding businesses cited snap state border closures, government restrictions (capacity, social distancing etc.); the international border closure; lack of consumer confidence to travel, and events being cancelled across the state.

Ms Mariani said “some businesses simply won’t be able to come back” and the report did include a request for “…funding to help businesses in parts of the sector that are unlikely to fully recover, even in the mid-term, to reposition themselves to find new markets”.