Calls to extend JobKeeper and help operators stay afloat
A WHITSUNDAY tourism operator who holds “huge worries” for the future of the region’s tourism industry has joined other industry leaders in calling for the JobKeeper payment to be extended past September.
The JobKeeper payment is a Federal Government initiative that allows businesses impacted by COVID-19 to access a subsidy to continue paying their employees.
Fortnightly payments of $1500 per eligible employee are available under the program until September 27, 2020.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday ruled out extending the JobKeeper scheme warning the Australian economy must not become “addicted” to handouts, although flagged potential assistance for the tourism industry.
However, Whitsunday tourism operators voiced concerns about what would happen after September if assistance was not extended.
Owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton was among those concerned and has managed to keep her team employed thanks to the JobKeeper allowance.
However, with no set date on when international travel will resume, Ms Claxton said more help would be needed past September to ensure the region’s tourism industry survived.
“If we don’t have support past September, you will then see a lot of tourism operators going under. There’s no doubt about it,” she said.
“The problem we have is that our domestic market, which has always been very strong with us as a company, is less than 50 per cent of the people that travel with us.
“We still have that international market that’s not going to come back at all for the next 12 to 18 months.
“We kept our whole team on and we’re going to get to the end of September, and if we don’t have any help after that we’re going to have to let possibly 50 to 60 per cent of them go because we just won’t have the people on our boats.”
Ocean Rafting will resume business on June 13 when stage two of Queensland’s roadmap to easing restrictions comes into play.
Ms Claxton said the only reason they were able to resume operations next month was due to the JobKeeper allowance as social distancing requirements meant less people were allowed on their tours.
“It’s cost prohibitive for us to operate with social distancing rules in place,” she said.
“Even though yes we’re allowed to start on 13 June and yes we’re going to give it a go for sure, honestly the only reason we can even look at it is because of the JobKeeper allowance at the moment.”
With the combination of a difficult year for business in 2019, marina fees and the lack of flights, Ms Claxton said extending JobKeeper was vital in keeping the region afloat.
“Particularly in Queensland and the Whitsundays, we as an industry and a town won’t survive unless we get help beyond September because everyone in town is in tourism almost.”
Not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ situation
CEO of Tourism Whitsundays Tash Wheeler said extending the JobKeeper allowance was just one way the industry would need help over the coming months.
“I think the Federal Government did an incredible job when they very quickly brought out JobKeeper. There wasn’t a lot of time for them to investigate across the whole country and we really welcomed that initiative,” she said.
“But what needs to happen as a next step, they need to look at this not as a one-size-fits-all but look at the areas of Australia that really need it to survive.
“Maybe not everyone in the region will need (JobKeeper) but there will be tourist businesses that will need additional support beyond September.”
Help to keep staff employed
Off the water, other industries in the region have also benefitted from the allowance and echoed calls to look at extending payments.
General manager of Mantra Club Croc Andrew Slavin said the JobKeeper payment had been “highly beneficial” for the hotel.
Mantra Club Croc has remained open throughout the pandemic providing rooms to essential workers among other visitors.
Mr Slavin said the JobKeeper payment had assisted him in keeping staff employed and preparing for an eventual return to normality.
“It’s been such a wonderful tool to keep staff engaged within the workplace and keep the community stable and confident,” he said.
However, he said there was no telling how long JobKeeper may be needed to help businesses across the Whitsundays keep staff employed.
“One size does not fit all and (JobKeeper) needs to be reviewed industry by industry and region by region,” he said.
“JobKeeper is essential for as long as it’s required.
“It’s important for all of us to be vigilant but also keep the staff engaged, which is exactly what JobKeeper has done.”