Tourism job losses to escalate by Christmas

Tourism industry continues to struggle against COVID-19

Another 3,150 Tropical North Queensland tourism jobs will be lost by Christmas shrinking the tourism workforce to half its pre-pandemic size, according to new research from the Tourism and Transport Forum (TTF).

Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) Chief Executive Officer Mark Olsen said tourism had employed 15,750 full and part-time staff and, with indirect tourism spend, supported a total of 25,500 jobs before the pandemic in the Cairns region.

“By July 2021, we had lost 3,600 permanent staff, even with the support of JobKeeper and a returning domestic market,” Mr Olsen said.

“The region grew its workforce across the entire supply chain ready for a busy winter, but now these new recruits, including more than 200 from the tourism industry, who have been in training for months are being told to find other work.

“Government needs to understand how significant this impact will be on our community where one in five jobs have depended on tourism.”

TTNQ Chair Ken Chapman said income support was needed for the tourism staff who were losing their livelihoods right now.

“Employees who are stood down and lost hours of work due to lockdowns in their area are able to get up to $750 per week of COVID disaster income support payments from Centrelink,” he said.

“But tourism employees stood down because lockdowns elsewhere in the country are causing their employer’s business to be locked out from its customer base cannot receive income support.

“This is a human tragedy due entirely to Government policy.”

Cairns Chamber of Commerce CEO Patricia O’Neill said job losses were being felt across all industries, particularly retail, which had suffered a 61% decline in jobs since the previous financial year.

Advance Cairns CEO Paul Sparshott said the ability for the regional economy to recover would be greatly reduced if skilled staff were lost to the tourism and hospitality sector.

“There will be far reaching ramifications. When tourism markets are severely impacted it flows through to other industries affecting the whole regional economy,” he said.

Mr Olsen said Tropical North Queensland is, and will remain, one of the most impacted regions in Australia and the outlook for the tourism industry was grim.

“Without customers, businesses do not have the turnover to keep their highly skilled staff, some of whom have received years of training in specialised areas to become the skippers, dive masters and jump masters that provide the region’s signature tourism experiences.

“Our region has had just 27 days straight without the impacts of a lockdown in key domestic markets in the past 18 months.

“That period in May was the busiest the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region had been since before the pandemic as we are the most Googled regional destination for Australian holidaymakers.

“However, the stop/start impact of southern lockdowns shutting the destination out of key markets is difficult for businesses to manage, particularly with staffing levels.

“We are in our sixth week of free-falling visitors with more than 15 million Australians in lockdown.

“Most businesses are running at less than 5% of their normal revenues, and the forward bookings are slowing with hotels down to 15-25% occupancy and more than more than $20 million in postponed events for July and August.

“We have boats going out with just six passengers and four crew and most venues are on limited trading hours, while others have gone into hibernation.

“Consumers have lost confidence in booking travel interstate and far from home, with nearly 60% of Australian travellers unlikely to cross their State border according to new data from the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC).”

“With half of our domestic travel coming from interstate before lockdown, the closing of borders will continue to have a dramatic impact on our region.

“With school holidays looming, TTNQ’s marketing campaign activity in September and October will be heavily reliant on travel agent partners to try and give consumers confidence to book knowing that change will continue to happen.

“Data from the retail travel agencies show that Cairns remains the fifth most searched and sixth most booked travel destination over the past four weeks, but we are running at less than 25% of the searches and 55% of bookings from where we were pre-Covid.”