Adventure Abroad founder Tom Allwright typically pays his bills by organising tours for Australian residents around the world, from North America to Europe and South East Asia.
That was until COVID-19 hit and the Morrison government closed Australia’s international borders.
In the subsequent collapse in outbound tourism that followed, Allwright lost his entire business.
“We’ve gone on to have a revenue of zero since March … we’re essentially unable to operate legally,” Allwright tells SmartCompany.
While the understandable focus of legislators has been on boosting local tourism as lockdown restrictions have eased, there is no shortage of business owners like Allwright whose fates are tied to outbound travel.
But nowhere are the prospects more dim for a post-coronavirus revival than in this sector, with international borders unlikely to open before next year.
Allwright believes the federal government will need to step in to support tour operators, or risk independent business owners going broke in droves.
“It comes down to where the government puts the importance of tourism,” Allwright says. “The truth is a lot of tourism is small business … the big companies have credit lines and things like that, the smaller operators are really going to get hurt here.”
Tourism imports were worth $58 billion in 2018-19, underscoring the value of local residents travelling abroad to Australia’s economy.
Debate rages over stimulus as second wave drives border fears
For business owners like Allwright, relaxing of restrictions in Australia is not enough. A global consensus on how travel around the world will resume in the wake of COVID-19 is needed, but it will be some time before that occurs.
While international travel is off limits, Allwright is doing his best to pivot towards the domestic travel market, which has experienced a revival of sorts in recent weeks as interstate border restrictions have started to ease.
But the prospects for domestic tourism appear more fragile than first thought, with a second wave of coronavirus infections in Victoria raising new fears about internal travel.
Earlier this week, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian took the extraordinary step of advising residents in her state not to interact with travellers from Victoria, while Western Australia has opted to keep its border restrictions in place for the time being.
“I call on all organisations not to interact with citizens from Melbourne at this stage,” Berejiklian said.
Debate continues about how to best support the tourism industry amid the disruption, with varying calls for an extension of JobKeeper to additional marketing spend from governments.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham last week indicated that the federal government would pursue domestic travel incentives, saying the federal government was working through options for a policy response.
Keeping things going
In the meantime, business owners are doing their best to keep things going.
Nancy De Losa and Damian Hancock, owners of Italian cycle tour business A’qto Cycling, have also lost most of their revenue in the wake of global travel bans, as they have been unable to organise any tours abroad whatsoever.
They’ve turned to selling virtual bike tours to keep their clients engaged and on their books, and things are going pretty well.
“We invited all of our tour guests to join us in a private online community environment,” De Losa tells SmartCompany.
“Each month since April we’ve picked a region of Italy and we’ve been running shared rides.
“We’re also hosting cooking classes and wine tasting tours on Friday evenings.”
De Losa and Hancock have managed to transfer 90% of their guests across to 2021, aided by the interim products they’ve created.
“We’ve had to innovate and think creatively about what we could do … it’s been working really well and the feedback from clients has been how pleased they are that the spirit of Italy has been kept alive in their hearts and minds.”