The normally bustling Airlie Beach Main Street is devoid of people, with only a handful of businesses trading, due to increasingly strict coronavirus restrictions.
The normally bustling Airlie Beach Main Street is devoid of people, with only a handful of businesses trading, due to increasingly strict coronavirus restrictions.

Reality bites: Businesses close and people lose jobs

A SHOCKING $127 million in revenue has been lost and upwards of two thousand people across the Whitsundays have lost their jobs, with many businesses being driven to close their doors due to the coronavirus crisis.

With flights grounded, Tourism Whitsundays (TW) is calling for people to pull together and support each other through the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

In figures released yesterday by TW, 130 tourism businesses reported that 2593 jobs had been lost across the region.

This brings the total estimated loss of revenue for the region’s tourism industry to $127 million, with 28,458 room nights cancelled and 23,808 tours or activities cancelled.

The full force of coronavirus on tourism in the region is yet to be fully felt as both Jetstar and Virgin announced they would temporarily suspend their services.

All Virgin Australia flights in and out of Whitsunday Coast Airport were suspended from midnight March 27, for 11 weeks. Jetstar flights will be suspended until the end of May.

One tourism operator feeling the pinch is the award-winning Red Cat Adventures, who has had to stand down 29 of its 32 staff and hibernate four vessels.

“It’s a tough gig going from No.1 Major Tour and Transport Operator in Australia, to having limited staff and tied-up boats,” Julie Telford, who owns the business with husband Asher, said.

“The business has been stood down, and we have had to let the majority of our staff go, due to lack of passengers and income.

“Everyone has been extremely understanding, patient and kind. We’ve made sure we do the right thing by our staff, customers and agents.

“In times like these, it’s really important to do the right thing for the integrity and reputation of the business.”

President of the Whitsunday Coast Chamber of Commerce Allan Milostic said about 90 per cent of businesses in the Airlie Beach Main street were closed, with just the two pharmacies open and a “handful” of cafes and restaurants offering takeaways.

As well, tradesmen would be struggling, due to the lack of maintenance work in resorts and hotels, which are now closed, Mr Milostic said.

He welcomed the government’s new wage subsidy, available to businesses that can demonstrate a 30 per cent decline in their income for a comparable period last year.

The $130 billion government wage subsidy allows businesses to pay employees, who have been with the employer for more than 12 months, $1500 each a fortnight over the next six months.

“I would say very few businesses in the region would not be eligible to claim this - they’d be mad not to claim,” Mr Milostic said.

“I think it’s good on a number of levels. If you stand staff down for commercial reasons, you are up for redundancy payments.

“This way, you by-pass that, as you are still paying employees – they are stood down but they are still getting wages.

“Not only does it take a lot of pressure off Centrelink but the beauty is that employers can still maintain a relationship with their employees, rather than severing that connection, as the employees are paid as if they are working, but there’s nothing to do at work.

“As things start to get better, you can ask them to come in for a few hours and start to reactivate your business.”

Mr Milostic also welcomed the Queensland Government’s waiving of payroll tax for five months, with a six-month deferral after that.

“If the crisis continues, I’m sure they will revisit it again,” he said.

Speaking last week, CEO of Tourism Whitsundays Tash Wheeler said the figures were only a snapshot of the impact but called on the whole region to pull together during this “heartbreaking” time.

“If there was ever a time to recognise that we are one in this region, from the islands to Airlie Beach to Proserpine to Collinsville to Bowen, this is that time,” she said.

“We are not segregating. We are one region, and we rely on all of the components of this region to be strong and successful and we need us all to be a part of that.”


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