A HAMMER blow set to drop on the tourism industry when JobKeeper dries up next month could be the wake-up call needed to push diversification and shake off limitations associated with Cairns being just a tourist town.

Tourism operators are anxiously ticking off the days until the federal government pulls the pin on the wage subsidy that's set to end on March 28 and for some business already struggling, an end to free money could be the last straw.

In the December quarter, 16,600 Cairns employees received the benefit, Queensland Tourism Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said.

 

In the December quarter or last year 16,600 Cairns employees were signed dup to the JobKeeper subsidy. Picture: Brad Newton
In the December quarter or last year 16,600 Cairns employees were signed dup to the JobKeeper subsidy. Picture: Brad Newton

"That's half of what it was in the quarter before, but still a lot," he said.

Knocking on the doors of power in Canberra this week, Mr Gschwind said there had been a shift in an understanding of how dire the situation was for Cairns and Port Douglas.

"The tone of response has changed in Canberra. There is greater recognition that some targeted support is required if we want to keep our industry intact," he said.

"We are certainly worried that for some business it will be the last straw. We are seriously concerned about it and hope it does not eventuate, but is something we are waiting on with concern."

 

 

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch speaks with Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan earlier this month about the desperate plight of the Cairns tourism industry. Picture: Brendan Radke
Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch speaks with Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan earlier this month about the desperate plight of the Cairns tourism industry. Picture: Brendan Radke

 

Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch said meetings with the Treasurer and Prime Minister had secured "targeted support" for the Far North, but it remained unclear what form support would take.

"The Treasurer has confirmed that Cairns is an area that will need additional support," he said. "They are working on a process now as to how that can be done.

"We will get the support and it will be very targeted but he did not go further."

Enterprise North executive manager and former mayor Kevin Byrne suggested taxation rate changes, insurance rebates and abolition of payroll taxation could prop up business until international travellers returned, but he warned there would be casualties.

"It's true to say JobKeeper has propped up a lot of marginal operators who were lucky to survive post-GFC," he said.

"The government has got to be responsible and target businesses that are more likely to survive, that's where the support should go, not willy-nilly all over the place.

"We have to have a different model - we can't keep propping up zombie companies."

 

Executive manager of Enterprise North and former Cairns mayor Kevin Byrne. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Executive manager of Enterprise North and former Cairns mayor Kevin Byrne. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

 

 

However, Mr Byrne indicated a shift forced by a COVID fallout had the potential to open up new opportunities.

"We can't not diversify our economy. We have been taught a rude lesson (by COVID-19) that has been neglected for too long," he said.

"We have had a number of shocks and we still don't learn. We had the pilot strike, and we then had the GFC.

"We are not going to snap back to where tourism was pre-pandemic."

Advance Cairns executive chairman Nick Trompf said the pandemic had been catastrophic for the tourism and hospitality industries but diversification in the past 10 years meant health, education and shipbuilding sectors were powering.

"The Cairns economy is diversifying more than people realise over the last decade," he said. "The economy needs to continue to diversify and that needs to accelerate."

 

 

Ochre Modern Australian Dining restaurant owner Craig Squire. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Ochre Modern Australian Dining restaurant owner Craig Squire. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

TOURISM LEADERS PLEA FOR BORDER CERTAINTY

DOZENS of tourism industry leaders have penned a heartfelt letter to Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe pleading for Queensland borders to remain open.

Leading the push for border certainty was Ochre Restaurant

Director Craig Squire, who has so far only got an automated response to concerns.

In the letter, Mr Squire said there was "no doubt" border closures had severely damaged the tourism industry in the past six months.

"But also (closures) linger heavily on future travel plans," Mr Squire said.

"Not only does this affect general tourism but the events and conference industry. With several large conferences planned for Cairns this year (we are) waiting with bated breath on the next border closure."

 

Originally published as JobKeeper end a wake-up call for tourism 'zombie companies'



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