Regional tourism operators in Victoria, especially those within the border bubble with New South Wales, are not happy with the long-awaited roadmap to achieving a COVID-19 normal future.
The Victorian Regional Roadmap was announced on Sunday, but Ashton Kreuzer, marketing manager at Mildura Paddleboats, was concerned that the new roadmap meant restrictions in regional areas may still be in place for another two months.
The border closure and COVID-19 restrictions had been devastating for the 65-year-old iconic paddleboating business that has not been able to produce and income for more than six months.
“Our business has survived the Spanish flu and two world wars, but this has been our biggest challenge to the business yet,” Ms Kreuzer said.
She was concerned that even when restrictions did move to COVID Normal, border tourism operators would still be disadvantaged due to continued border closures.
“Even with the lifting of Victorian restrictions and the creation of the border bubble, we still need the NSW border to open … because once you step on the boat, you’ve crossed into NSW waters and breach border restrictions,” Ms Kreuzer said.
Tourism ‘already on its knees’
Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence understood the need for infection control measures in areas with positive cases and acknowledged the work the Daniel Andrews Government had done.
But Councillor Clemence felt regional areas, such as Mildura, that already meet the COVID Normal criteria should be allowed to reopen.
He also wanted the New South Wales–Victorian border to reopen, especially coming into the summer months.
“Mildura is a riverfront town with a population of 60,000, and we can’t even step foot in the river without breaching border restrictions,” Councillor Clemence said.
Victorian Tourism Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said many operators would remain closed until at least October.
“We’re not going to see activation of our sector until late October, early November, it’s really gut wrenching for an industry that’s already pretty well on its knees … with little to no revenue,” she said.
Kathryn McKenzie is the chief executive of the Echuca Moama and District Tourism Association.
Her initial reaction to the latest roadmap was disappointment for the tourism and hospitality operators, who were struggling to survive without an income for possibly another two months on top of the previous six.
“It’s a really long roadmap with some very challenging points along the way for our industry… add to that a border closure and a river closure that splits our town in half, it’s a really hard road for our industry to survive,” Ms McKenzie said.
The regional tourism industry indirectly employs more than 90,000 regional Victorians in cafes, restaurants and tourism, with many of these businesses already enduring six months of closures. Another two or three months may be too long to recover from.