On a clear and sunny Perth day, Owen Williams should be zipping around the city with a group of 10 tourists.
- Tourism operators outline the impact restrictions have had on business
- There are calls for JobKeeper to be extended to help operators survive
- The Tourism Council says 42 jobs are lost each day while the border is closed
But today he will host just one Perth couple on his Segway tour, who are here to celebrate a birthday.
His business, like all other tourism operators in WA, has been relying entirely on West Australians to get out and explore their own backyard since the state eased its COVID-19 restrictions.
“Ever since March, we’ve been affected by COVID and really the trade has dropped ever since then and even though we’ve started now, again the trade is just a trickle,” he said.
Most of his customers are usually from interstate and overseas.
“People [who] would come to the state to visit friends and family, then would go out and do other activities like Segway tours, they’re not coming at the moment,” he said.
Border uncertainty concerns operators
WA’s tourism industry has been urging the Government to provide a tentative date for when the border would reopen, saying operators need to be able to plan and start accepting bookings.
Nationally, the industry is warning of hundreds of thousands of job losses and a complete collapse of the sector, if the Federal Government does not extend its coronavirus wage-subsidy scheme for another six months beyond the September end date.
While most states have announced plans to reopen to domestic travellers, the future is even more uncertain for operators in Western Australia.
“September’s going to be big for us, because we’re just rolling out of winter, so we won’t have a lot of turnover, and as well, we’ll lose JobKeeper,” Mr Williams said.
“If locals come and do our tours, which we’re hoping, we can survive.
“If the locals don’t come out of their front doors and come and do local tours, we won’t be able to survive.
“It’s really urgent that a date be set for [the border reopening] so we can plan and then we can promote to locals as well as interstate people.”
Regional communities hit hard
The pain is being felt right across WA, with communities located close to the border among the hardest hit.
Norseman, in WA’s Goldfields region, is the last town travellers pass on their way across the Nullarbor into South Australia.
With about 400 residents living in town, the community has come to rely on tourism to keep businesses afloat.
Shire of Dundas CEO Peter Fitchat said the WA border closure had had a massive impact on the community, as the decrease in traffic due to ongoing travel restrictions meant there was hardly anyone stopping to fuel up, have a bite to eat or rest their head for the night.
Mr Fitchat said Norseman’s free RV park was usually full, but aside from two cars last week there had been no-one in sight.
“We’ve got a little post box at the RV park for comments and receipts spent in town,” he said.
“We have a lucky draw and just send them something, a calendar or just thank you for visiting.”
Mr Fitchat said based on receipts left in the post box, the total travellers spend can reach up to $8,000 some weeks.
But he said the box had been almost empty for months.
Intrastate opening a boost
The Norseman Motel offers accommodation and meals for weary travellers and is the town’s only pub.
The motel’s owner-manager, Claye Poletti, said his business had been struggling since COVID-19 hit and he did not believe lifting restrictions on travel into South Australia would help much.
“People have still got to quarantine when they come over here anyway,” he said.
Curtin University Tourism Professor Kirsten Holmes said the situation facing WA’s tourism sector had never been seen before.
“We have never had this kind of crisis which has affected the whole state at the same time and for such a long time,” she said.
Professor Holmes said although opening WA’s regional borders had provided an important boost, locals were not traditionally big spenders in their home state.
“Intrastate is the most important but it is still only half of the [tourism] income that came in last year,” she said.
“Intrastate is about half of all the spend, but of course that is all money that is already here in WA, it is not bringing new money in.”
’42 WA jobs lost each day’
Professor Holmes said it was vital the JobKeeper payment be extended beyond September.
“Tourism is essential to WA,” she said.
“Cutting the JobKeeper payment off in September is particularly challenging because that is during the low season, so tourism businesses are going to have to somehow keep afloat until December–January when they are actually going to start making income.
“So if it could be extended to the start of the summer season, that would be really helpful.”
The Tourism Council of WA said a recent industry survey showed 34 per cent of tourism businesses were not viable without interstate visitors.
“Each day without interstate visitors, Western Australia loses 42 jobs,” Tourism Council WA CEO Evan Hall said.