Industry

Motel businesses fight cruel blows of lockdown

With pandemic-related restrictions hitting the tourism industry hard, what do lockdowns mean for motel businesses?

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.

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Grantlee Kieza

Grantlee Kieza OAM has won three Queensland Media Awards, two Australian Sports Commission Awards and has been a finalist for the Walkley and News Awards and for the Harry Gordon Award for Australian sports journalist of the year. In 2019 he received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his writing. You can find more of his writing in our upcoming Accom News print magazine!

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3 Comments

  1. We are a small motel right by the airport on the Gold Coast and although we see the need for lock-downs, the support has been non existent from state or federal govts really. Even the latest $5000 grant for small business won;t even cover half the rent or half the rates and then they are saying if we get the grant we can;t get the disaster relief payment, The $5k is a help for the business but doesn’t feed us. The council have done nothing, in fact the rates have risen 10% The Govt forget all the other factors as well, if Sydney or Melbourne are in lock-down it affects us because there are no flights, same with Brisbane for weekenders, but they only give token support when we are actually in lock-down. Jobkeeper worked and was a great method for all of us affected to tread water so quite frankly, if businesses can show a decrease in income cause by COVID then they should roll it out again.

    1. Couldn’t agree more Adrian. The announcements of financial support is suppose to fix all, but the reality of what we actually receive either personal or on a business level doesn’t match the pain and damage done. It’s a similar issues in Bendigo with no Rate relief, our pleas as an association continually fell on deaf ears. “They understand our pain …. we need to be seen to be fair…” Fairness, we’re not in Kindergarten, we’re in a bloody 18+ month global pandemic! Let’s listen, and take a more targeted approach.
      Health is continually their number one priority, BUT only Covid health, not emotional, mental, stress and so on. With our businesses continually struggling so too does, our health!!!!!

      1. Completely agree Kristyn, to me it is a no brainer, the Jobkeeper helped us tread water so just bring it back and only those that can justify getting it get it. They are too busy throwing money at Qantas and forget businesses that also rely on people flying. I feel for Bendigo, we have family there, it is so reliant on shows and sports events, of which the Motels are essential, so to have constant uncertainty, it makes it impossible to get the bookings required to keep going. Our Mayor seems to have gone into hiding since asked about support, and he LOVES being on the telly.

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