Hotel industry issues warning over JobKeeper, cites ‘unsustainable’ costs

Hotel and accommodation operators have begged for help, claiming COVID-19 has slashed occupancy rates in CBDs by half.

Parliament’s COVID-19 committee on Thursday also heard “anecdotal evidence” of significant job losses in the sector following the end of JobKeeper.

Tourism Accommodation Australia chief executive Michael Johnson said the industry had no federal or state safety net to help it cope with the impact of snap lockdowns.

“This has a devastating financial, emotional, and mental cost to businesses and workers,” he said.

“Many workers have found alternative employment in other industries less exposed to the impacts of COVID-19.”

Australia has enjoyed a strong economic recovery from COVID-19, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Thursday noted that 200,000 more people than initial estimates had found work.

But Mr Johnson said 15 per cent of workers in the hotel sector in NSW had been laid off since March, adding to the 25 per cent let go at the beginning of the pandemic.

Cuts had come mainly from administrative roles that operators could no longer justify, but the sector faced “dire” shortages in kitchen and frontline food skills, he said.

“So we’ve got this huge need for people. On the other side of it, we’ve had some highly skilled people that have left and gone to other industries,” he said.

Mr Johnson said in Sydney and Melbourne’s CBDs, which were heavily reliant on corporate travel, occupancy rates were around 50 per cent.

“The concern is that if (people) do travel and there is a shutdown, they then get restricted or placed into a quarantine environment,” he said.

“We’re still seeing a very, very slow recovery of corporate travel, and the corporate market makes up a huge proportion of our domestic travel.”

Australian Hotels Association ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said unemployment was at “virtually 100 per cent” in the sector at the beginning of the pandemic.

Mr Brierley said the federal government’s $80bn JobKeeper scheme had eased that pain but agreed there would be “significant job losses” after it ended last month.

“That’s the anecdotal evidence. I think the ABS data will bear that out in time,” he said.

He predicted unemployment would remain at roughly 11 per cent, equating to around 100,000 jobs.

Mr Brierley also warned that hotel operators’ fixed costs, including rent and mortgages, had returned to or exceeded their pre-pandemic levels.

Coupled with capacity limits, he said the situation for operators had become “unsustainable”.

“Our industry is being asked to do these things with only 50 per cent of its patrons. That’s not fair. It’s not sustainable in a financial sense,” he said.

Mr Brierley said targeted assistance from the federal government had previously worked to plug holes caused by snap lockdowns, but was that was no longer the case.

“There’s a breakdown there and our industry is caught in the middle of it, and people seem to be oblivious to the financial plight that comes with that,” he said.

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Hamish and Zoe Foster Blake encourage big city escapes in Tourism Australia campaign

From beach-hopping to bush-bashing, Australians have been enjoying our new-found travel freedom since border restrictions relaxed, but there’s one area we’re criminally overlooking – our big cities.

So travel-loving couple Hamish Blake and Zoe Foster Blake have teamed up again with Tourism Australia for a new campaign that urges Aussies to plan a city escape to bring some love back to the big smoke.

In their new ad campaign, which is part of Tourism Australia’s Holiday Here This Year campaign, the popular couple showcases what our cities have to offer for your next domestic getaway.

Speaking to about the City Escapes campaign and their upcoming travel plans, the pair explained how Australia’s excellent cities leave us spoiled for choice.

“No offence to other countries, but let’s say if you go to America, you’ve got some good capital cities in America but you’ve got some duds. In Australia, we’ve got no duds. If it was up to me, the campaign would be called Australia: No Dud Cities,” Blake said.

“Every capital city is awesome in its own unique way. I do love that so much about Australia. Cities that are smaller, population-wise, are kind of even cooler because they’ve got their own art, culture, food, geography, cool hotels. The cities have boomed.”

“And also whether you’re going with children, or just your partner, or you’re going for nature, or you’re going for shopping – you’ve got all of it,” Foster Blake added. “Art galleries, museums – they’re smashing it.”

The couple said they already had a hit list of cities they planned to go to next with kids Sonny, 6, and Rudy, 3.

“We were just saying we feel embarrassed we haven’t been to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart,” Foster Blake said.

“Our kids like to be a bit free-range and barefooted and feral, so we’ll definitely head to somewhere that affords that sort of environment as well. That might be Perth, or Brissie.”

Blake agreed he was “dying to get back to Perth”.

“I haven’t been for a couple of years and again, I think one of my favourite things about Perth is that it’s that perfect mix between big and small,” he said.

“It’s obviously a big city but it’s spacious, there’s lots of little great pockets and there are amazing beaches.”

Tourism Australia has found domestic travellers have been shunning cities in favour of regional areas due to health and safety concerns.

Spending on overnight trips across Australia fell by $27.1 billion, or 34 per cent, in the year ending September 2020, compared to the previous year.

It has especially been felt in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Perth.

Hotel occupancy has also taken a dive, with Melbourne, Sydney and Hobart the hardest hit – their occupancy rates have plunged to 33 per cent, 40 per cent and 49 per cent respectively.

Tourism Australia managing director Phillipa Harrison said tourism operators in Australia’s cities were still struggling almost a year after the country’s international borders snapped shut and lockdown restrictions inhibited domestic travel.

“Our cities are the key international gateways to Australia and transit hubs for travellers, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been hit the hardest in terms of tourism spend, hotel occupancy and aviation capacity over the past year,” Ms Harrison said.

“While our international borders remain closed and travel restrictions continue to fluctuate around the country, our cities run the risk of continuing to bear the brunt of this pandemic despite offering so many incredible, safe experiences and being more affordable than ever.

“As part of this campaign we are calling on Australians to help support their fellow Australians by booking a city escape, which in turn will help to support the thousands of city-based hotels, restaurants, bars, cultural attractions and experiences that rely on tourism for their livelihoods.”

As Hamish and Zoe look forward to their next city escape, they admitted there was one thing they’d have to contend with – their very opposing approaches to packing.

“He doesn’t pack until the night before, which gives me hives the morning of,” Foster Blake told

“I pack a week out, constantly curating, editing … and I do the kids’ suitcases as well. That will be our point of tension the night before.”

Blake admitted his packing habits were somewhat chaotic.

“For some reason, even though I know where we’re going and I know the temperature, as soon as I open my wardrobe my brain is filled with wild, 1 per cent contingencies,” he said.

“I’m packing wet weather gear on a whim, maybe three woolly jumpers for a beach holiday.

“Then when I get to the destination … it’s like a theatre sports game where I open up a bag and have no idea what’s in there.”

“But he’ll live in the same pair of shorts for seven days,” Foster Blake laughed.

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