Tourism industry begs for consistent border regulations

State governments should develop a consistent, national approach to border closures, according to the former boss of Tourism Australia, the federal government’s key tourism marketing agency.

John O’Sullivan, who now heads the ASX-listed Experience Co, the second-largest marine operator on the Great Barrier Reef and largest skydiving operator in Australia and New Zealand, hit out at state governments saying if consistent border policies were not developed people could lose the desire to travel.

“(With) the more uncertainty that comes into the market what we are going to see is people’s propensity to travel decline and that is why we would be asking for a national policy on hotspot definitions and responses.

“With the operators I talk to we are asking for consistency in state border closures we are not asking for handouts,” said Mr O’Sullivan, who spent five years with Tourism Australia as managing director before resigning in 2019.

Depending if you are in NSW, Queensland, or Victoria there have been different responses, from various state governments, he said.

Mr O’Sullivan said it is obvious that there is fear among health officials about new strains of the virus developing.

“(But) What we would like to see is a national, consistent definition of hot spots and hot spot management to give business certainty and our customers certainty,” Mr O’Sullivan told The Weekend Australian.

“What our tourism industry has been through in the last 12 months going back to the bushfires and now this (virus) is that we can deal with shocks but we need consistency in application of policy,” he said.

“What is becoming apparent is that this virus will bubble up and we will have isolated and repeated outbreaks.

“We are seeing low single digit figures at the moment. Obviously there is a fear among health officials about new strains of the virus.”

Experience Co has continued to trade through the pandemic, losing about half its staff at the beginning of the pandemic. It has since rehired some full timers and casuals.

“We reopened in June from the initial lockdown but have continued trading obviously at reduced capacity and flexible schedules. We have had cancellations to affect part of our businesses but we have been able to continue to trade.

“We would also like to see more discussion on proactively managing travel bubbles, rapid testing and green lanes for international students and holiday-makers.

“I don’t think we are seeing enough proactive discussion on how we get ahead of the virus through the use of technology and other policy.’

Mr O’Sullivan said Experience Co was lucky in that it carries minimum debt and is trading profitably.

“But for the other parts of the industry that is not necessarily part of the case,” Mr O’Sullivan said.

“As an industry we want to see a return of international travel to Australia because it is a big part of the hospitality, tourism and education industry. We are an island nation, we rely on service industries.”

The call came as Corporate Travel Management founder Jamie Pherous this week invited state premiers to show courageous leadership and stop ‘deliberately hijacking the livelihoods’ of many Australians and reopen borders.

Tourism bosses have termed the ‘ad hoc border closures’ a blow to confidence given the travel plans of millions of residents of greater Sydney and Melbourne have been disrupted over the peak summer holiday season.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has stepped up border closures and put greater Brisbane into a three day lock down from Friday night after a Brisbane cleaner caught the highly contagious UK virus strain.

Travel stocks were hit by the decision, with Corporate Travel Management falling 3 per cent to $16.80, Webjet dropping 1.2 per cent to $5.02, and Flight Centre losing 0.5 per cent to $15.66.