Don’t remove jobs lifeline

Catherine MasseyBusselton Dunsborough Times
Mcleod Tours directors Lincoln and Neil Mcleod will have to let staff go if the JobKeeper subsidy ends in March.
Camera IconMcleod Tours directors Lincoln and Neil Mcleod will have to let staff go if the JobKeeper subsidy ends in March. Credit: Catherine Massey/Busselton Dunsborough Times

Reducing staff and opening hours or shutting altogether could be the reality for many Capes tourism providers if JobKeeper ends in March.

As uncertainty over interstate borders continues, tour businesses have pleaded for the State and Federal Government to continue the subsidy for the highest- employing industry in the country.

Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association co-chief executive Sharna Kearney said there was a strong need for ongoing, targeted support to ensure tourism businesses remained viable for the return of interstate and international markets.

“A hard stop on JobKeeper in March will mean that some tourism businesses will be forced to lay off staff, sell assets and, in some cases, shut down completely,” she said.

“Tours and paid attractions and experiences are the worst hit, with many citing sustaining declines of 50-70 per cent.

“Many tourism businesses have not returned to their pre-pandemic revenue and (are) operating at 10- 20 per cent down.”

Ms Kearney said loss of tour businesses in WA would greatly affect all aspects of the State’s economy and community.

The JobKeeper scheme exists to support businesses and not-for-profit organisations significantly affected by COVID-19, and was first extended in September.

And as the March 28 expiry date looms, tour businesses such as McLeod Tours are desperate for the subsidy to be extended again.

Co-director Lincoln McLeod has cited a 70 per cent decrease in visitor numbers since April and said the business would be forced to let staff go if the subsidy ended.

“We honestly couldn’t survive without JobKeeper in our business,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of public perception that the local community is trying to get out there and support tourism, but there is still a big gap that just isn’t being filled.

“If the States can work out how to contain the virus properly, whether that be quarantining remotely as opposed to in the cities, we will be able resume interstate travel properly and tourism businesses will greatly benefit.”

Busselton Jetty chief executive Lisa Shreeve has cited similar problems and said she was worried how the organisation would get through winter without the subsidy.

“We are looking at all options now, which may include closing some bad winter days,” she said.

Ms Shreeve said jetty ticket sales in December were down 40 per cent from 2019, and this month an 18 per cent decrease had already been recorded.

“There have been minimal visitors from interstate since borders have opened (because) tourists are worried about having to cancel bookings,” she said.

Vasse MLA Libby Mettam said tourism businesses would likely struggle to remain sustainable with another year of international border closures, and suggested a second round of Tourism Business Survival Grants was due.

Member for Forrest Nola Marino said the Federal Government would work with the tourism sector to address the challenges.

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