Labor’s pre-election tourism pledge has left the state’s peak industry body wanting, at a time it says many Western Australian business owners are on their knees.
- The tourism industry wants $50 million for COVID-affected firms
- Premier Mark McGowan says the industry needs to “talk itself up” more
- Labor has pledged to build an Aboriginal Cultural Centre if re-elected
The WA Tourism Council has called on both Labor and the Liberals to commit $50 million towards a support package for at-risk tourism businesses badly hit by COVID-19.
Tourism Council WA chief executive officer Evan Hall said the package would need to include waiving land taxes, water rates, national park and transport licence fees, as well as providing direct financial support to the worst-affected businesses.
Mr Hall said around a third of tourism businesses were still on JobKeeper and would be forced to close or drastically reduce their staff numbers due to ongoing border closures and travel restrictions.
“Across the industry, the recent lockdown and regional travel restrictions have cost WA tourism businesses an average of $39,000 each, with small businesses such as sole traders losing $6,700 each,” Mr Hall said.
“Many local tourism businesses are in dire straits from the recent lockdowns and need ongoing support to be able to continue, and it is imperative that they survive so that Western Australia can attract visitors when travel restrictions ease.”
WA Labor today announced a $217 million plan to increase tourism offerings and support the sector through COVID-19, which would include $50 million towards an Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
The pledge also included $20 million towards an Aboriginal Tourism Fund “to make Western Australia the premier destination for Aboriginal tourism in the country” and $50 million to expand the Aboriginal Ranger Program.
‘The industry needs to talk itself up’: Premier
Asked about the Tourism Council’s wish list, Mr McGowan said the tourism industry should “talk itself up” more.
“I wouldn’t be so dim and dark about our tourism industry,” Mr McGowan told ABC Radio Perth.
Mr McGowan said the solution for businesses impacted by the lack of international tourists would be to extend JobKeeper for certain industries.
“Those that rely on international tourists, those that rely on international students, our cinemas that rely on Hollywood, and travel agents — businesses like that, because of the international border — should continue to receive a form of JobKeeper,” he said.
“I can’t magic up out of thin air Chinese or Japanese tourists.”
The Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said tourism in WA was performing better than most places around the world.
“If you go out to the regions, hospitality is packed, there are more Western Australians travelling [here] … than ever before,” he said.
“Western Australians’ spend in the state exceeds every record we have had.
“There are still some people doing it tough if they have been reliant on international visitors.
“It is something we would ask the federal government to address.”
Mr Papalia pointed to the State Government’s $14 million tourism recovery fund and the ‘wander out yonder’ campaign as examples of the industry having already been assisted during COVID-19.
Industry calls for governments to ‘take responsibility’
Mr Hall welcomed Labor’s pre-election tourism pledge, but said immediate assistance was needed.
“The tourism industry is absolutely delighted with the election commitment from the Premier to kick-start an Aboriginal Cultural Centre,” he said.
“It will be a must-do tourism experience for Perth.”
“We appreciate the investment that has been announced in developing tourism into the future, but right now the tourism industry has an urgent need to sustain those businesses that are at risk,” Mr Hall added.
“The money that was announced today and the existing funding that is going into tourism — all of it could be used in the short-term to keep those businesses going.
“Much better to save businesses and jobs now than to try and build them into the future.
“We are looking for federal and state government to take responsibility for the damage that’s been done to these businesses through no fault of their own.”
Kings Park, Heirisson Island among proposed sites
Labor promised to spend $50 million on planning, design works and seed capital towards the centre, but a location for the new site was yet to be decided on.
“About 82 per cent of visitors to WA want an Aboriginal cultural experience when they visit, but only 26 per cent get one,” Mr McGowan said.
“[The centre] will operate on a hub-and-spoke model, providing the first opportunity to experience the culture from different regions, promoting tourism offerings in regional WA.”
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said a range of locations for the centre were under consideration.
“Some people suggest Kings Park, some people suggest the parliamentary precinct, people suggest further up the Swan River up in the Bassendean area, some have suggested Heirisson Island,” Mr Wyatt said.
“It is something we want the Whadjuk people to take the lead on.”