While some sectors of Tasmania’s economy are rebounding from the COVID slump, others are not — and people within those industries are taking drastic steps to survive.
- Tasmania’s COVID recovery is expected to be one of the big election issues, especially for industries such as tourism, hospitality and the arts
- Some tourism operators are reporting a surge in intrastate and domestic tourism but are looking for events funding as winter approaches
- Travel agents and local performers are disappointed by a lack of support, with some losing their jobs when JobKeeper wound up recently
Travel consultant Denise Poder lost her job a couple of weeks ago when the federal government subsidy, JobKeeper, ended.
“It’s been horrendous, it’s been very difficult,” Ms Poder said.
The family-owned business, Launceston Travel and Cruise Centre, was forced to let go three staff to keep afloat.
Ms Poder said the industry hadn’t received the same level of state government assistance that others had.
She has gone from sitting behind a desk to hand-picking grapes, as a matter of necessity.
“I live locally in Pipers River so I picked up some casual work there,” she said.
The 46-year-old said it’s a major change of pace, something she never expected she would be doing.
“I’ve never done it but they don’t have backpackers, so grape picking is what we have to do to get by.”
She hopes to return to the travel industry one day but said it would require more support from whoever wins government at the coming state election.
“Funds for travel agents to keep their business alive and the flow-on effects for everyone in the industry … at the moment it’s a case of not the right support for the right people,” she said.
“It almost feels like we’re kind of last.”
The sun has just come up in a paddock outside of Cressy in Tasmania’s north and tourists are excitedly pouring out of a minibus ready for an adventure.
John and Clare Allen’s hot air balloon company is back in business after a bumpy 12 months for the state’s tourism industry.
But for the past six months, bookings have soared and they rarely have an empty space in their basket.
“Absolutely booming, yeah it’s been a great result for us,” he said.
“When the state government encouraged Tasmanians to get out there and experience Tasmania, they hopped online and found us.”
Most of their guests are Tasmanian but since borders opened in December, plenty of interstate travellers have been enjoying a bird’s eye view of the state.
“I think the important thing is just to keep the borders open, have a good plan to actually cope with outbreaks of COVID. As soon as you shut things the confidence is gone and people will not come back,” he said.
Domestic visitor numbers for the December 2020 quarter are yet to be released but Tom Wootton from the regional tourism body, West by Northwest, said discount flights and Spirit of Tasmania subsidies had been a welcome shot in the arm.
He represents about 800 tourism and hospitality businesses including Wendy Page from the Table House Farm at Wynyard.
Mr Wootton said while some businesses were adjusting to the new normal there was cautious optimism about the state’s COVID recovery.
“We’re not out of the woods, I don’t think nobody would suggest that we are, but we’re getting really favourable reports over the last little while of fewer visitors but people spending more,” he said.
“That’s utopia from a tourism point of view.”
A buoy in trade for some local businesses
In the small coastal town of Wynyard, Penny Cornwall has had the confidence to start a new business.
She and her husband breathed new life into the 1925 Bank of Australasia building, transforming it into a cafe that opened in mid-December.
“It was the tail end of COVID and a little nerve-wracking for us because we were not from a hospitality background, so with all the unknowns it was pretty scary,” she said.
But the gamble paid off and she’s now planning boutique accommodation for the second floor of the building.
Travellers are coming from interstate and around Tasmania, keeping the couple “quite busy”.
“I’m not sure what it will be like without the pandemic but we’ve been busy,” Ms Cornwall said.
She said has not yet experienced the winter tourism season, however, and she’s nervous about what’s ahead.
So too is the Waterfront Motel’s Cyndia Hilliger, who has had to adjust to the new normal.
“I’ve seen changes in the way tourists and visitors book, everything is last minute,” she said.
“So if you’re trying to plan ahead it’s quite difficult because if you look ahead the bookings don’t look fabulous but a lot of bookings drop into the system last minute.”
She’s hoping the state election will see more commitments for funding events in regional areas, such as the far north-west.
“Support in getting festivals up and running is going to be a big and important feature of our tourism landscape going forwards. There has to be a compelling reason for people to come up here.”
Artists struggling to get back on stage
Nicole Simms-Farrow lost all her singing, theatre and acting work when COVID-19 hit.
“Our industry was the first one to get hit by COVID because it was all the gigs that got cancelled immediately, I had a show at the Spiegeltent, it was six months of work and it was cancelled one week out,” she said.
While there were grants and financial incentives that helped some people in the industry, she struggled to qualify for JobKeeper and used three accountants to try to secure support.
“It was really quite harrowing to try to prove that a lot of the work I was doing was valid and to prove the work that was coming up was no longer there. It almost wasn’t worth it, to be honest, the stress that it caused,” she said.
She said it is a real fight to be heard as an industry.
“The fact is that, yes our job is different to a lot of other people’s jobs but it’s still the job that we do [and] yes, it is important. That’s what we base our livelihoods on and it’s a contribution to society that we think is absolutely essential.”
While Ms Simms-Farrow has been able to continue vocal coaching, she’s had two shows cancelled and is yet to get back on stage.
“If you can’t get the amount of audience you need to get the funds it’s just not worth their risk, so that puts us all out of job,” she said.
This election she’ll be looking for more targeted support for artists.
She said more encouragement to get people to watch the shows when they happen would have a significant impact on the industry.