Tourism needs to stop relying on handouts and start doing its own heavy lifting, according to a former chair of the Australian Regional Tourism Network.
David Sheldon, who runs visitor accom in Tumut, has questioned the “grit” of the industry in the wake of bushfires which decimated parts of NSW and Victoria and left numerous operators with minimal income over summer and a dearth of forward bookings.
His words follow the government’s dedication of $76 million to promoting tourism recovery after the bushfires, and a call by the Tourism Council of WA for matched government funds to counter the effects of the coronavirus outbreak on tourism businesses.
The governments of Queensland, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia have also committed significant funds to aid tourism recovery following a horror few months.
“If the Tourism Industry is to live up to the forecasts of being one of the national top five super industries by 2030 the industry its associations and networks needs to show some real metal and rid itself of the ‘please sir may I have some more mentality’ tag,” Sheldon said in a statement titled ‘true grit’.
Mr Sheldon says local, state and federal authorities have invested heavily in the sector through marketing campaigns, infrastructure, product and skills development programs and grants, for example, and says the industry can’t keep asking for more.
He says he “can’t believe” the campaigns being rolled out at present that are “virtually begging people to visit”.
“It sickens me to see the industry in such a state,” he said.
“Yes we have all suffered from the bushfires some more than others with floods, droughts and corona virus but the reality is the industry in each state suffers disasters on a regular basis.
“It is time the Industry, the associations and networks stood up and started some of the heavy lifting instead of relying on government, hopefully this may be a wake call for all those industry associations and networks that keep asking for annual membership fees.”
One of those industry associations is the Accommodation Association. Its chief executive, Dean Long, refuted Sheldon’s argument saying: “This has been a very difficult time for the tourism industry.
“The accommodation sector has in fact demonstrated ‘true grit’ and been a big part of the solution.
“While absorbing multi-million dollar losses, accommodation providers have partnered with government on campaigns, been active in raising funds for bushfire impacted communities and provided shelter for firefighters and others in these communities.
“Our industry is a major driver of our economy both directly and indirectly and a major employer. As an association our role is to advocate strongly for a sustainable industry and harness government support to help the sector in their efforts.”
Another leading industry body, Tourism Accommodation Australia, was this week advocating “long-term and comprehensive” funding packages to help save jobs in the sector.
CEO Michael Johnson said: “With vacancy levels at critical lows, revenue per available room tracking at half of 2019 levels and no end on the horizon with respect to the coronavirus outbreak, it is apparent additional government support will be required to protect jobs and keep the accommodation industry afloat.
“The prospect of the damage to our tourism industry resulting in mass job losses must focus the minds of policy makers when considering an adequate industry assistance package.”