Kristyn Slattery, the Bendigo Motel Association president, has developed a personal anthem to survive Victoria’s Covid-19 lockdowns: Chumbawamba’s, Get Knocked Down.
Ms Slattery, whose Julie-Anna Inn was recently recognised as one of the top 10 hotels in Australia based on Tripadvisor reviews, said it was always hard to keep getting back up again, even though Victoria’s latest lockdown was lifted on July 27.
Her association represents 27 Bendigo hotels, and she said the latest Victorian lockdowns had been “deflating” to all Bendigo motel owners, who felt trapped in the “groundhog day” of snap emergency restrictions. She estimated that her business alone had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in bookings in the past seven months.
Ms Slattery called on the Victorian Government to provide a better road map out of lockdowns as the accommodation industry faces unique challenges.
She said: “The accommodation business is a lot like a bakery with just one loaf of bread to sell. If the loaf doesn’t sell that day, it’s wasted,” she said. “It’s the same with a motel room. If we don’t sell the room that day, it’s wasted money on our part because we still have all the overheads associated with preparing that room.”
“With the last lockdown, Victorians only found out the day before that it was ending, so there was no lead time for anyone in the accommodation industry to organise staffing. We need more advance notice. For us, it’s just not a matter of business returning to normal because the government says a lockdown is over. We need continued support because people don’t have the confidence to travel.”
Ms Slattery said many big events in the Bendigo area had been cancelled this year because of travel restrictions.
“It’s no good to us if we keep coming in and out of lockdown because people don’t have the confidence to travel or to book accommodation,” she insisted. “And people don’t have the confidence to stage the events because there is a huge waste of money if they make preparations for an event and then can’t proceed.”
“We would like to see more financial support given to sectors that are unable to bounce back immediately after lockdowns because our industry doesn’t bounce back like so many others. The only road map that I’m aware of out of lockdowns is that the governments want to get to 70 percent vaccination, but right now, they are still not allowing everyone who wants to get vaccinated to be vaccinated, and it looks like we will be very slow getting to that figure. That leaves our industry in turmoil.”
Ms Slattery said each lockdown presented great challenges, both emotionally and financially. Victoria’s May lockdown brought her to her lowest point, she said, leaving her sitting in the dark and ready to give up her business.
“Each time there’s a lockdown, we risking losing another motelier in Bendigo,” Ms Slattery said. “It’s the risk of landlords and banks knocking on the door.”
She said organisers in Victoria were still not able to host large gatherings, so they were not drawing large numbers of family and friends to visit regional centres. “That has a huge impact on the rural accommodation industry.”
Ms Slattery said: “Anyone still facing restrictions is suffering. So just being allowed to open is not an instant fix. It’s not like the coffee shop or the hairdresser. They can start working straight away, and they can put on an extra person if they need to and play catch up. It’s not that simple in our business.”
As president of the Bendigo Motel Association, Ms Slattery has been campaigning strongly for the terms and conditions of Victoria’s travel voucher scheme to be changed to stop online travel agencies taking a commission, which she estimates could be as much as $3 million from the $16 million plan.
“I would like to ensure that the vouchers can’t be booked on a third party, that they have to be booked locally through a local tourism website or directly with the property – a phone, email or website situation,” she said.
“But that keeps falling on deaf ears, and I keep getting generic email responses from the government saying, “We know this matter is important to you.”
She said the Victoria Tourism Industry Council had told her that the Victorian government didn’t want to tell consumers how to book.
“That just blows my mind because it seems they are prepared for 15 to 20 per cent of Australian’s money going offshore when we need that money in our industry and economy,” Ms Slattery said.
She said she had contacted Martin Pakula, Victoria’s Minister for Tourism, to point out that South Australia had used a book-direct model with great success.