23,000 JOBS: Opening borders to southerners ‘top priority’
THE region's top tourism chief says Sunshine Coast operators desperately need the state's borders to reopen as the industry battles an unprecedented loss in trade.
Coronavirus regulations have crippled businesses across the country, with travel and accommodation providers struggling to stay afloat during the current restrictions.
Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford said a majority of the 15,000 residents who reportedly had lost work as a result of the virus would be directly or indirectly related to the tourism and hospitality sectors.
"Our tourism industry supports over 23,000 local jobs, contributes $3.3 billion to the regional economy and in 2019 welcomed over 4.4 million overnight visitors a year," he said.
"In fact, 2019 was a record year for tourism for the Sunshine Coast, and the region outgrew every other tourism region in Queensland.
"But the arrival of coronavirus has effectively wiped out business from March to mid-June for most of our tourism operators."
While Mr Latchford said he was confident the industry would recover, the largest challenge Coast operators faced was the lack of certainty.
"Restrictions hit our industry particularly hard because it deprived tourism operators of the traditionally strong Easter and school holiday periods," he said.
"The recently released 'road map to recovery' is useful as we know that from 12 June, we can accept overnight accommodation, but there is still no definitive word about border re-openings, and winter is usually a prime period for attracting Victorians and NSW travellers."
Access to those southern markets would be essential to the resurgence of the industry on the Coast, Mr Latchford said, believing the opening of borders was a top priority for operators.
"We also need a progressive opening up of restaurants and tourism attractions," he said.
"The Queensland Government announced an expansion of dining to 20 patrons per venue from 12 June, but with our climate and so much outdoor dining options - such as Mooloolaba's Esplanade - hopefully we can see patron numbers progressively increased in line with health department advice."
Sunshine Coast Afloat owner Paddy van Driel-Vis said the small business was planning to continue operations next month, yet restrictions had severely impacted her customer base.
"In this industry, people don't book too far forward, so we're going to be starting off pretty grim when we can on the 12th of June," she said.
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"Starting with an absolutely clean slate is going to be horrific for all businesses."
Mrs van Driel-Vis said help from all relevant industries, especially the support of Sunshine Coast travellers, would be needed in order for her business to remain viable.
"We don't have budgets as mum-and-dad businesses. We don't have cashflow or any golden pot that we can pull into," she said.
"So we are heavily reliant on the chamber alliances and council and the bigger players to get the message across to try and attract the people here.
"We, as individual operators, will do our bit to get our voice out there, but it's crucial that we all work together in all of this to support the region."
Looking forward to when the industry will reboot, Mr Latchford said businesses such as Sunshine Coast Afloat would benefit from the region's landscape.
"The Sunshine Coast is really well-placed to take advantage of the expected boom in domestic tourism because of our reputation for natural attractions - our beaches, our hinterland, our national parks and our wide open spaces," he said.
"We believe such open, natural attractions will really resonate with travellers looking to escape the lockdown."