Australia’s tourism sector is bracing for what will essentially be a near-complete shutdown in industry activity after the federal government moved on Sunday to recommend against all non-essential domestic travel.
In the latest move to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australians should cancel all non-essential travel, whether between or within states.
The decision, taken after a meeting between state government premiers and chief ministers over the weekend, comes after the government closed Australia’s international borders to all non-citizen and non-resident arrivals last week.
“Non-essential travel should be avoided, and particularly when we’re talking about interstate travel over longer distances,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.
“You know, the sorts of travel that wouldn’t be normally part of your, your daily life.”
The upgrade in government warnings about travel comes ahead of a crucial trading period for the tourism sector, normally punctuated by school holidays and the Easter period.
While the government stopped short of issuing an enforceable direction around travel, orders for tourism-adjacent businesses such as pubs and other licensed venues to close were issued over the weekend, while restaurants and cafes are as of Monday operating only takeaway and delivery services.
Morrison, under pressure in recent days to ramp up social controls amid concern many Australians have not been adhering to social distancing measures, said the upgraded travel advice was “regrettable”.
“I know the impact that will have for many people in those communities where those holidays were going to take place,” he said Sunday.
“These decisions are not taken lightly and for those who are arguing for extreme measures all over the country, we would only take further measures based on medical advice.”
Jay Dillon, founder of online holiday and getaway marketplace One Hour Out, said the restrictions leave his business facing months of uncertainty.
“This is bloody painful for everyone and I don’t think there is anyone in regional tourism/hospitality who isn’t wondering how the heck they are going to make it through this,” he said in an emailed statement on Sunday.
“We had to ask our two staff members to take some time off and I’m just hoping the recently announced government support for small business will allow us to get them back in for some hours (and hopefully some work for our casual writers and photographers too).
“Who knows what the future holds for us all.”