By Joyce DiMascio

 Simon Westaway, executive director of the Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC), is positive about the vaccine roll-out in Australia but strident that businesses will collapse if the federal government does not continue support in the short-term.

He said: “There aren’t a lot of markets if borders are restricted.”

Today he warned of mass redundancies across the visitor economy if the government does not provide support to replace the JobKeeper program which is about to end.

It’s sounding like Victoria is the canary in the coalmine as we inch closer to the wind-up of JobKeeper. But every state is facing its moment of truth, especially city destinations, hotels, suppliers, venues and attractions.

The industry was hit hard over Christmas with the sudden closure of interstate borders and that has created the lack of confidence we’re currently experiencing, he says.

There’s a lot hinging on the national vaccine program, especially for the domestic market. And the resumption of international travel all hinges of the safe reopening of international borders and Australia’s participation in digitally portable vaccine passports.

“Tourism businesses only require short-term assistance until the national vaccine roll-out brings back confidence in domestic travel,” Mr Westaway said.

“The federal tourism package must include direct financial assistance to at-risk tourism businesses.

“The tourism businesses in the capital cities are most at risk due to the downturn in interstate travel.”

He said the tourism industry is not looking for more grant programs or pork-barrelling in a few regions. It needs direct financial assistance to continue for businesses of all shapes and sizes.

“Direct financial assistance should go to all tourism businesses at risk including sole traders and small family businesses as well as major airlines,” he said.

The evidence of the fragility of businesses is coming in thick and fast – there are a plethora of surveys that have quantified the stark reality that thousands of businesses are teetering on the edge. But it is a timing thing – and our industry needs more short-term assistance.

“Industry surveys show significant tourism job losses and business closures will occur due to a lack of confidence in domestic travel,” Mr Westaway said.

“For example, half of surveyed Victorian tourism enterprises are on JobKeeper and most are experiencing weak forward bookings, a theme repeated across all other states and territories.

“In the case of Victorian tourism businesses, 13 per cent say they will be forced to close their doors, with most indicating significant job losses are already taking place.”

Westaway says he is optimistic about national leisure travel and business events as the vaccine brings confidence back to the market. But it’s going to be some time before the whole nation is protected.

Asked when the government will advise industries that have been hit hardest on what is on offer, Westaway says there’s talk there could be something announced later this week, but it’s still a guessing game.

He’s very complimentary about the job the advocacy groups have done making the case for a new support package.

“Industry has been very collaborative, hats off to everyone,” he said.

Last week, Tourism Australia hosted its annual Destination Australia hybrid event with 450 participants at ICC Sydney and 300 on the virtual platform.

Westaway said the event was ‘future focussed” and dealt with a lot of what was required to gear up for recovery. He said Tourism Australia managing director Pip Harrison gave a frank assessment of the state of the industry.

Stay tuned for more about what Pip Harrison discussed with the industry.