Opinion: Keep Calm and Carry On

Last Tuesday’s budget, like most budgets, had good news and bad news. The good news includes funding for tourism and aviation, supporting domestic tourism with half-price airfares and lots more.

The Federal Government has provided a massive financial package to supercharge the economy post-COVID. Our economy seems to be doing well and, domestically at least, we can look forward to some semblance of normality.

But it comes at a cost. The bad news – our national debt will increase to its highest level. And we remain a cut-off community, with international borders likely to remain closed for sometime.

This time last year, tourism bosses were forecasting (or perhaps praying) for a return to normality by Christmas 2020. This was later reforecast to mid-2021 with Qantas expecting to resume international flights by October 2021.

However, the Federal Governments forecast for a return of international travel – both inbound and outbound – is now mid-2022, at the earliest. That is at least another twelve months away. Our borders will remain closed. Tourism will be limited to Australia, and possibly New Zealand and some Pacific islands. And the proposed “bubbles” with Singapore and Japan are now less likely to occur until sometime next year.

This is not only disappointing due to the decline in tourists but will also see a continued absence of migrant workers and students, who worked in the hospitality, tourism and farming industries, which will create labour shortages, especially in the regions.

Whilst it is predicted that we are still on track to fully vaccinate the population by the end of this year, there are growing concerns about new vaccine resistant strains of the virus. And there is debate as to whether or not, people who are vaccinated can still catch and transmit the virus.

Australia has been spared the worst of the pandemic. We are relatively free of the virus and any outbreaks are controlled quickly. But this also means that we have to maintain rigid protocols to prevent the entry and spread of the virus. Our success is also our downfall – we are now a closed island. We are reliant on an effective vaccine and the reduction of cases overseas.

The biggest issue for Australia is the fact that the pandemic is getting worse overseas. Reopening the borders depends on how the virus is contained overseas. Yet much of the rest of the world is still in the grips of the pandemic with more than 800 000 new cases being recorded EVERY day (at 30 April 2021) and 3.3 million deaths worldwide to date.  And more dangerous variants are emerging. So, to allow social distancing to be relaxed here, we have to remain a closed fortress.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said, in his budget speech, “With respect to international borders, it’s quite a conservative, cautious assumption that international borders will gradually reopen from the middle of next year,” He hailed the border restrictions as one of the nation’s biggest weapons in the fight against COVID-19. “Early and decisive actions saved lives and livelihoods,”he said. “We closed our borders. Australia’s fate could have been so much worse.”

2022 is an assumption – not a decision. In other words – it maybe indeed be sometime after 2022 that our borders will be allowed to reopen.

So – let’s count our blessings and concentrate on what we can do. Let’s get used to and revel in the new normal. There is no need to go stir-crazy. We may be confined to an island – but it is the largest in the world. Domestic tourism and consumption IS the new norm. Embrace. Enjoy.

Guest Registrations are vital. The virus will continue to arrive on our shores to test us. And even if we are all vaccinated, it is important to control its spread. To allow us to mix socially, contact tracing is our best defence – and this is only possible with Guest registration.

Social distancing is still important. If we make social distancing a normal habit, we will be able to reduce any potential spread. Similarly, good hygiene practices should become normal – they are still important even if the virus is eliminated.

Contactless payment is now normal, cash is declining, and pre-payment will become more common.

A personal plea – now that we all use credit and debit cards for payment, let’s get rid of the card surcharges! We all know the banks charge a fee. But so does the milkman and the gas company – so just cost it in, with all the other ingredients.

Encourage local tourism. As the advertising says, we should explore our own backyard and support our local businesses. Australia is a large, wonderful and diverse country. There is something for everyone.

Businesses need to be mindful that short notice shutdowns may still occasionally occur. Pre-plan for shutdowns – and re-openings. Adjust menus and work with other local businesses and suppliers to minimise waste. Be preprepared. Find ways to pivot quickly, share supplies and limited staff.

Businesses should also adapt to reduced labour – due both to the skills shortage and costs. Scale down. Small intimate venues are the go. Contain costs and waste, with simpler, fixed price, “table d’hôte” menus.  Reduce operating hours. Develop multi-uses for the space and premises. Share space with other operations.

The borders may be closed. But because of this we can socialise. We can go out with family and friends. We can visit our favourite bars and restaurants. We can have holidays. We have some of the best wines, some of the best foods, some of the best restaurants and some magical destinations. So, get out and enjoy. Explore your local regions. Go see Australia. Now is the time to support our fabulous hospitality industry. Keep calm and carry on. Australia is worth a detour.

By Jeremy Ryland







Information based on the Federal Government Budget Tuesday 12 May 2021.

Image: Karen Arnold has released this “Keep Calm And Carry On” image under Public Domain license

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