I hardly know where to begin in crafting an update that needs to cover off yet another crisis unfolding for our already fragile industry.
For the last three weeks I have been updating you on our efforts with State and Federal Governments to ensure the needs of our sector were front and centre in formulating their responses to the current bushfire crisis. We have had some significant wins in this space, which I’ll explain below. Sadly, while we are still in active fire situations in parts of the state and country, we have now been confronted with an unfolding coronavirus crisis prohibiting travel from our key market of China during their peak travel season.
On the bushfire front, we have seen swift and effective responses at the State and Federal levels that speak directly to the key issues we’ve advocated strongly on – shaped by the information that many of you shared with us.
Our survey content was invaluable in these government discussions and VTIC has been able to speak with confidence on what the industry is feeling right across the State. We travelled to East Gippsland recently and we’re headed to the High Country next week to connect with members and to hear your stories that we can then share in critical state and national forums we’re engaged with on your behalf.
Roughly 10 days ago, Minister Birmingham announced the Federal Government’s $76 million tourism recovery package; and by the following Thursday, Tourism Australia launched the $20 million domestic campaign, as part of this package, under the banner of Holiday Here This Year.
In lock step, on Friday last week, Visit Victoria launched its bushfire recovery campaign under the banner of A Short Visit Goes a Long Way, redirecting their regional campaign activity for this financial year to focus on recovery efforts to support the industry.
Both TA and VV are to be commended for their rapid call to arms in getting Victorians and indeed the entire nation to recognise the importance of holidaying in their own backyard.
In addition, the Victorian Government announced on Monday a $64 million relief package for businesses in the directly affected State of Disaster declared areas. This package includes significant relief measures in regional payroll taxes, 50 per cent concession on stamp duty, waiving water rates for 12 months and support in testing for smoke taint to protect this year’s vintage at affected wineries.
Importantly, this package includes a $10 million Council Assistance Fund to support local councils in addressing damage and other impacts to homes and businesses. The fund may be used to provide rate relief, which was noted as a significant pressure point by members facing council rates due next month. This is, however, at the discretion of councils and VTIC will be pushing hard for consideration in this area to be applied as part of this package.
While the focus of this latest announcement is limited to businesses in the disaster declared areas, VTIC continues to lobby hard for channels of support to the broader industry that has been devastated by the significant cancellations over what should have been the peak travel period for domestic visitors. I will continue to update you in this critical area.
Just as we had started to find a pathway to move forward from this disaster, we have been hit with the travel ban by the Chinese Government on all group travel out of the country effective from Monday 27 January, smashing any hope of salvation from travel during the Chinese New Year. On Tuesday, I spoke with Simon Brown on ABC Radio on the impact the bushfires and coronavirus will have on our industry, you can hear the interview here.
This is clearly a rapidly evolving situation that everyone is trying to come to grips with, but the latest figures show that there have been over 130 deaths to date and nearly 6,000 reported cases.
Tourism Australia has been providing updates regularly through their channels and VTIC is monitoring developments via information provided through a national tourism crisis communications forum. The latest update from that group on Tuesday night indicated the virus is influencing both Free Independent Travelers (FIT) and Group Travelers, with the initial impact on the lower yield groups. There are a lot of issues around cancellation clauses that are being worked through, which is a main concern for operators dealing with this current challenge.
We understand that efforts are underway to research the coronavirus’s impact on the tourism industry across the country, recognising that the Chinese market now constitutes one-quarter of international tourism spend in Australia – and nearly 39 per cent in Victoria. We will continue to work closely with our state and national colleagues to ensure that we are providing you with consistent and timely information.
The Department of Health as the lead agency for the coronavirus response has created a website with regular updates.
It’s been recommended that the Department broaden the scope of the information to industry so that it is relevant to a larger target market, particularly to provide practical advice on what accommodation, event and tourism operators should be doing and what the associated risks are.
With all the devastation facing our industry right now, we know that operators are struggling under the weight of this double whammy of tragedy that has hit at the start of this new year.
As you know, we are coming up on the time when VTIC would host its annual Visitor Economy Forum (VEF). As was mentioned last year, we were looking to change up the format this year and to create more a day-conference program that would bring in workshops and key learning sessions to better support your planning for the year ahead.
This plan would change the way we deliver the program and would have created a different price point for what would be a much bigger and more complex event.
Knowing the financial challenges everyone is facing this year, I reached out to our venue partner for the VEF this year, Crown Melbourne, to see what might be possible. I’m absolutely thrilled to say that Crown Melbourne has agreed to support the industry in attending this event – which means we can offer this important gathering at NO CHARGE.
This will be first time the industry is coming together post the bushfire crisis and, through Crown Melbourne’s generosity, it means that cost does not need to be a factor in allowing operators to attend.
You can register now here– please note we have set a maximum of 4 tickets per organisation and there are terms and conditions regarding cancellations and no shows.
We are an amazing industry filled with amazing people – and this is just one more example of why our tourism world is so remarkable. I want to sincerely thank Crown Melbourne for this incredible expression of support for VTIC, its members and the broader industry by allowing us to come together in this special way.
I look forward to seeing you at our event and will continue to update you on other developments as I have to this point.