Leading figures in Tasmania's embattled tourism industry are calling on the Commonwealth government to throw them a lifeline, as the March 2021 cut-off date for the JobKeeper wage subsidy payment looms.
Robert Ravens, who owns the popular Bridestowe Lavender Estate in the state's North-East, said JobKeeper had allowed him to keep his staff employed and his business "alive".
Mr Ravens wants a wage subsidy payment for the tourism industry to continue beyond the end of JobKeeper.
"We now need some ongoing support to underpin employment in the tourism industry," he said.
"Without JobKeeper as an ongoing support for employment, the tourism industry in Tasmania is in danger of delivering a substandard product or certain businesses collapsing entirely."
On January 4, 2021, JobKeeper will decrease by $200 to $1000 a fortnight for full-time workers and by $100 to $650 for part-time staff, before it's phased out completely on March 28.
Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive Luke Martin said the industry was in "worse shape" in places like Queensland and New South Wales but that the end of JobKeeper still shaped as a "ticking timebomb" for the visitor economy here in Tasmania.
"I think certainly there will need to be some assistance for businesses post-March," he said.
"Whether it's JobKeeper or something else, clearly the tourism industry or businesses that are heavily reliant on visitation ... are going to need it."
Mr Martin said he found the notion of tax-deductible holidays particularly appealing and suggested such an idea could be used to prop up the tourism industry across Australia.
"We've seen how effective [travel] vouchers have been," he said. "Every state has done a voucher program and everyone's raved about it. Maybe if you extend that nationally, perhaps that would be a really healthy way of stimulating travel if everyone takes a trip."
According to the TICT, bookings with Tasmanian tourism businesses have fallen about 25 per cent for the period covering the next six-to-eight weeks, following the closure of the state's borders to New South Wales in the wake of Sydney's Northern Beaches coronavirus outbreak.
"In real terms that's literally tens of millions of dollars out of the Tasmanian economy every week," Mr Martin said. "That's the scale of the impact of this."
Tom Wootton, the chief executive of tourism body West By North West, said he supported calls for JobKeeper to be extended for the tourism industry.
"The JobKeeper program has been a lifeline for a cross-section of industries," he said. "But, of course, as the pandemic has worn on, some industries are doing better than they were, some are surviving OK, others still aren't."
"And, of course, the tourism industry continues to suffer with every border closure."
I think certainly there will need to be some assistance for businesses post-March.Luke Martin, Tourism Industry Council Tasmania chief executive
Mr Wootton said "a kind of two-speed economy" existed in the tourism sector on the North-West and West coasts and while a selection of businesses were "doing quite well", others were struggling or had even closed entirely.
Tasmania's acting Tourism Minister Jeremy Rockliff said that without international visitors flocking to the state, the tourism industry remained "very challenged".
"If there are calls for greater federal assistance [for the tourism industry], we'll assess those at a state level," Mr Rockliff said. "But our Premier [Peter Gutwein] has been a very strong advocate for Tasmania's needs in terms of the pandemic and the assistance required, so we'd be open to any suggestions that we can advocate for when it comes to supporting our local businesses."
National industry representatives met with the new federal Tourism Minister Dan Tehan on Tuesday.
"Our government is committed to working with the sector to address the challenges that have emerged due to COVID-19," Mr Tehan said in a statement released after the meeting.
"Australia's health and economic success at managing COVID-19 means we are well-placed to recover and grow our domestic and international tourism sector.
"For this to occur as quickly as possible, members of the Tourism and Transport Forum, a peak industry lobby group, stressed the importance of all levels of government working together to provide national policy certainty and uniformity."
TTF chief executive Margy Osmond said the minister had moved quickly to meet with tourism leaders, who were "grateful for his willingness to work with us to find the best way forward for the industry".