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READ ATEC boss's emotional, open letter to PM

Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) managing director PETER SHELLEY has penned a letter to the Prime Minister and Treasurer in support of the Aussie export tourism industry...

Dear Prime Minister and Treasurer,


Back in March we wrote to you to shed light on the collective pain being experienced by our tourism industry having just endured a summer of drought, floods and bushfires and facing down an uncertain future with international border closures. At the time we called for support to help our industry - support which was forthcoming and gratefully received. Little did we expect to be seeking an extension of support four months down the track.


Right now we have an industry in tatters. The feeling of hopelessness, isolation and futility has engulfed our community from tourism supplier products through to inbound tour operators (ITOs) to travel agents and the million Australians who work across its many sectors.


While we’ve been told that we won't see international travel returning this year (other than NZ), and there is huge uncertainty around if and when it may return next year, many in our industry have attempted to ‘pivot to domestic’ in a bid to resuscitate their businesses but not all will be successful. As we count the growing COVID cases, tourism businesses are losing their confidence along with that of their customers and the entrepreneurial enthusiasm to start again.


Time is moving on, but we continue to live in suspension waiting for the day we can find something secure enough on which to build our hopes and future. This is an unsustainable situation. Our industry needs certainty, direction, a clear path and a commitment from Government to support us to open, and stay open. We are looking for strong leadership and purposeful, national guidelines that protect our operations and which effectively confine and manage outbreaks with minimal impact on businesses, as the cost of ricocheting between being closed, partially open and closed again is simply untenable, not to mention demoralising and exhausting. This is the only way to bring back the confidence in travel which will drive our economy once again.


On top of confidence, the industry needs support. Support for businesses to stay open, support for business to keep their staff connected and available for when things pick up to a viable level, support to realign with the domestic markets and other opportunities and support, eventually, to re-engage our international visitor markets.


This pandemic has left few unscathed and we accept our industry is not alone. However, tourism, and export tourism in particular, is unique in its pain. Over the past 10 years, export tourism businesses have delivered extraordinary growth which has helped to build Australia’s economic success and created thousands of jobs across the country. These are businesses on which we will rely for the regrowth of our export markets and we therefore must protect their role in our economy.


With 90% of export tourism businesses currently accessing JobKeeper and 55% saying their businesses will no longer be viable if international borders remain closed beyond the end of the year, we are facing down a severe contraction in our industry.  


Government support will be critical to ensuring we maintain both the diversity of authentic Australian experiences to offer international visitors and preserve the valuable distribution intermediaries (inbound tour operators) who will be absolutely essential, to help drive a recovery when the borders reopen. 

We are concerned by what’s ahead for these businesses who, through no fault of their own, will continue to have no revenue while our international borders are closed. Businesses which, without ongoing Government support, will undoubtedly go under, taking with them a significant number of jobs and causing critical structural damage to our inbound industry.  In turn this will make Australia’s eventual tourism export resurgence significantly more challenging. Our inbound tourism operators are much more than providers of Australian experiences: they are destination marketers, subject matter experts, global advocates for our country and commercially connected international traders. They are essential to an integrated and managed recovery of tourism in time.


As you look to the next stage of announcements of support for the Australian economy, we feel the need to further strengthen the case for the export tourism industry – the first industry to be closed down and what will be the last to re-open. We are at a fragile point and our businesses need a genuine long term rebuilding program that includes:

  • Tapered wage subsidy (JobKeeper #2): to maintain a skilled labour force and take pressure off the balance sheet
  • Overheads subsidy support: to maintain the costs of plant and equipment while generating zero revenue with international borders closed.
  • Grant program: to support businesses who need to make capital or marketing expenditure to pivot their product to attract domestic visitors
  • Re-boot grants: to support export businesses to reconnect with their international markets.
  • Certainty: in providing a three-month notification for the re-opening of each individual international market (country) to assist businesses to implement essential readiness programs and re-engage international distribution networks to drive visitation.


So far, the Government has made positive inferences towards our sector, and ATEC has been able to offer the Government our unique industry perspective in guiding a solution via regular high-level engagements. As we move towards an announcement regarding support for our industry, we are keen to remind you of the need for specific and targeted measures which will meet the needs of tourism exporters.

In establishing a future for tourism businesses across Australia, we look forward to seeing specific support for our industry in upcoming policy announcements.


With Best regards

Peter Shelley
Managing Director, ATEC


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Published: 20 July 2020

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