• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australia’s Tourism Industry; Coronavirus;
06 March 2020

Simon Birmingham: This morning, well today I’m going to welcome the state and territory tourism and trade ministers to Canberra. This is a scheduled annual meeting that we have, but it comes at the most crucial of times for the Australian tourism industry. Australia’s tourism operators are facing an unprecedented crisis, with 56 per cent downturn in international bookings over the last month. We’re working as hard as we can to try to stimulate demand from the markets, where people are still willing to travel and that’s why we’re focusing the campaigns in United States, the United Kingdom, and ensuring that we can get those willing to travel to book, to come to Australia, to have incredible experiences that are still on offer, in the Blue Mountains, or Kangaroo Island, in Cairns or in Rottnest Island. Australia is still an amazing country to visit. It’s still a safe country to visit. We urge people to still come visit here, but of course we also know that our tourism businesses who are hurting, their employees who are suffering, need extra help. And that’s why the government is also consulting carefully and closely in relation to the type of additional assistance that will be provided to small businesses around Australia.

Question: What’s the feedback on some of the assistance those companies are going to need? Because ultimately for them, it’s about cash flow.

Simon Birmingham: Cash flow is a real problem for many tourism operators. And we are working as hard as we possibly can to stimulate demand, to help them move that cash flow. But we know that some will still require additional assistance. So we are looking how we can make sure that we get assistance to them in the most targeted, careful way possible. Not wasting any taxpayer dollars, but using taxpayer dollars to support the viability of businesses and to protect jobs.

Question: Given what we’ve seen, when the government relaxed restrictions around China with students trying to get in- school students, and that didn’t happen, how do you try and encourage people from as far away as the UK or the US to get here?

Simon Birmingham: So we know that there are still people who will take advantage of cheap air fares, of discounted holiday deals. And when they’re doing that, we want them to choose Australia as their destination of choice. And that’s really what these campaigns are about. They’re not going to prevent a downturn in our tourism industry, we want to make sure that every visitor that can still get to Australia comes here because they’re spending their dollars are crucial for our tourism operators.

Question: What about Australians who are here? Because it’s very difficult for them to try and get into parts of South East Asia, for example. If they wanted to go there, there’s concerns about Bali and Indonesia. Is the message for them to stay here? And if so, is it bushfire areas you want them to go to? Is it capital cities? Where do people need to spend the money?

Simon Birmingham: The Holiday Year This Year message is as important, if not more important, than ever. Australians who are thinking about taking a break this year ought to choose to support local Australian businesses. Book a trip anywhere within Australia, you’re going to be helping to save jobs in our tourism industry and keep businesses viable as they head through these tough times.

Question: One of the significant events taking place next week, for example, in terms of tourism is the Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. How much consideration was given to try and keeping Italy open to get Ferrari in. Ferrari expressed concerns it could shut down the entire race if it wasn’t allowed to come in.

Simon Birmingham: Look, Health matters, and they have driven all of our determinations around travel restrictions. So public health advice comes first and foremost. We’ve been very mindful of major public events, but they’re not the reason for making health determinations. Health advice is what leads us to make determinations on travel restrictions. But that said, I urge Australians to still go about their business as usual. Get along to the Women’s T-20 World Cup final on Sunday. Break the record, make this something that Australia can highlight to the rest of the world, because that’ll be a reminder that Australia is an awesome place to visit, where people have incredibly great times, but also a country that is at the forefront of driving things like the recognition of women’s sport.

Question: Fifty-six per cent is a massive downturn, and that’s just in a month. If this virus continues to spread, is there a serious concern on the high level impact this could have to the Australian tourism industry?

Simon Birmingham: The impact to the tourism industry cannot be overstated. Businesses are really struggling, particularly those that rely on international bookings. That’s why we’re trying everything we can to stimulate demand within Australia and for international visitors, and why the government is preparing a comprehensive response to help small businesses with their cash flow and issues they’ll face in the future.

Question: Thanks, Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks guys. Cheers.