Tourism Australia, Destination Australia conference

  • Speech, check against delivery
Topics: Impact of the bushfires and coronavirus on tourism.
12 March 2020

Thanks very much for that welcome ladies and gentleman. Moogy and Isaac thank you for your Welcome to Country, and indeed acknowledging all of Australia’s Traditional Owners and Indigenous leaders. I think there is some messages about tens of thousands of years of history and culture that we can all, in a time of great uncertainty, at this point in time, to appreciate that the scale of time matters greatly in terms of how we do ensure resilience across communities. And I note today in the program, I’m due to be speaking about the Road to Recovery. The program was written a little while ago. Things have gotten a little rocky in the time since. I’m walking in here this morning, and I should say welcome of course to Adelaide Oval, Adelaide, in South Australia. My home state, so I’m thrilled that you’re all here. And walking in here to the magnificent Adelaide Oval this morning, I saw a large inflatable glass of Guinness sitting out there. If you’re walking back out towards the river side later on you can see it on your right on the way out.

We know that times are tough when St Patrick’s Day parades get cancelled around the world. And as part of that degree of scale of uncertainty that we all front at present. So firstly, a big credit to those of you who have travelled and have shown your own resilience in terms of the uncertainties at present — to still get on a plane, to still make the trip, to still come here and participate in this very important discussion at such a crucial time  in terms of Australia’s tourism industry.

And while you’re here, I hope you enjoy your time in Adelaide and South Australia. Is anybody planning to do a RoofClimb here in Adelaide Oval while you’re here? Come on, you’re the tourism industry. There you go. During the break, go downstairs and see the area downstairs, where you can go and make a booking to enjoy the thrills of the RoofClimb. And you can literally sort of dangle yourself out off the side of this stadium that we are in at present, and lean right back out over Adelaide Oval. And that will really get the blood pumping, I can assure you all. So, all the safety features necessary to do it safety, but also just to give you a bit of a thrill while you’re here. And I hope, of course, you are also all going to get out to the Adelaide Hills, over to Kangaroo Island, and support some of those fire-affected regions here in SA, as we trust of course that people are doing right across the country at present.

And that’s where I want to start. I want to start firstly with a big thank you. Thank you, yes, to those of you who travelled here, but thank you also to the tourism industry across Australia for the way in which, at the start of this year's troubles, we stepped up. And the industry stepped up in particular. Airlines were offering travel for fire-affected, for firefighters and those supporting the firefighting effort. Accommodation providers were providing rooms and beds and support. Cafes were providing meals. Pubs were helping in that regard. Others were giving relief in a range of different ways. And while the industry was under immense stress and strain created by those fires, the industry also stood up and played its role in terms of community support.

So a big thank you to the sector for demonstrating that the work of Australia’s tourism industry is not just in the economic statistics we often cite. It’s not even just in the million jobs that it supports and sustains across Australia. It is absolutely embedded in the social fabric, the culture of Australia, and that that is what is such a crucial part of so many communities right around the country.

Now, when I spoke at the Destination Australia conference in Brisbane last year, we were facing very, very different circumstances and times. Many of you probably firstly thought that you wouldn't see me at the Destination Australia conference this year if you were believing published opinion polls.

So that was one thing that was out there that proved to be wrong. But there were a bunch of other things that were completely unforeseeable. So yes, I’m back here, but the fires, the scale of the impact and we certainly couldn't foresee an eventuality like coronavirus.

The fires obviously hit the industry hard. Not just those fire-affected communities, but Australia's tourism standing at the top. The global widespread media coverage, not all of it factual or accurate, really hit our reputation and our standing as traditionally a safe destination. As of course, a destination whose roots are based very much into the nature-based experiences that we offer. But we were seeing, even as early as late January, that we were already starting to recover from that. And that recovery was based on great work by the TA team, by diplomatic representatives, but also very much by the industry. By people like Craig Wickham, who I see here, and I know is speaking to you today, who got on a plane to the US markets, hit the talk show circuit, hit the trade circuit, and made sure that the facts were understood. So government’s stepped up and tried to do what we could in terms of reaching out with our networks, to better explain that, no, Australia wasn’t burnt out, and that, yes, there were still incredible experiences to be had. But industry well and truly stepped up in that space as well.

And if we look at the bookings data, and the trends we were seeing, in late January especially in those Western markets like the UK, Canada, the US, we were starting to see bookings return to something closer, more closely resembling a normal pattern at that time. But of course, coronavirus hit. And its hit in a way that is far more severe in terms of its impact on industry than the bushfires were. Far more lasting and far more uncertain in terms of its duration.

So I give you the assurance here today that from a Government perspective we will do all we can to stand with industry, to ensure the resilience of this industry, and ultimately, the recovery. And that recovery is as much of a surge back to success in the future as possible. Because we should be optimistic about the success of our industry. We should be optimistic because firstly, the history of the last decade is an astounding one. With the Tourism 2020 targets we set out, many people doubted whether they could be met. Well, they were met last year, early, ahead of schedule. And so we managed to see the investment, creation of new rooms, the drive of visitors and spending and the growth that we wanted to see, all of it, more sustained business growth and employment growth over that period of time.

As we deal with the prices like we face right now, the thing we will fall back upon are the fundamentals that will make sure that Australia can rebound out of this crisis. The fundamentals are that Australia is still, still, key word this evening, when Pip speaks out about TA’s global positioning effort, Australia is still the country where people come and can have those nature based experience; those cultural experiences, those amazing food, wine and culinary experiences, where they can still have adventure-based experiences. The experiences, the hospitality, but also the safety is something that by the end of this crisis is going to be more important in the minds of travelers than perhaps ever before. The safety, the reliability of a country like Australia will continue to stand out well and truly. And Government's going to stand with you to see the industry through this.

When the bushfires hit, we did something quite unprecedented. We said we're going to pump in another $76 million into the 2020 expenditure. It wasn't a three or four year spending commitment, it was a 2020 commitment to put in an extra $76 million of support for the industry on top of TA’s $150 million budget. So, we're going to do that in a range of targeted ways. Some of it targeted to support the fire affected communities, much of it targeted to make sure that the whole industry recovers from the reputational hit of the fires. That we recognise we can't back fuel the lost international bookings instantly, so we invested in a domestic campaign; something TA hasn't done for years. We said now is the time to step up nationally with support to try to get Australians to choose to holiday here this year. And then we said we're going to rebuild internationally so we'll put more money into the international marketing budgets and we'll also invest very heavily in terms of the visiting trade and visiting journalists and media programs so that we can get the facts out there about Australia and why it is still a great place to support travel to into the future.

Now, those programs, of course, I want to reassure you, are all under constant adaptation and re-evaluation at present. We're not throwing good money after bad in terms of investing in international markets in ways to try to drive bookings that can't come. But equally, we are investing to make sure that people are still making long term decisions about choosing Australia as a destination; that they are still inspired to think about Australia as the place to plan their holiday when all of this global uncertainty comes to an end. And that we are making sure particularly those visiting trade and media programs are supported to happen whenever they can as quickly as they can because we know that as people sit in their workplaces, in their homes increasingly facing the prospect of degrees of isolation of not being able to move as they usually would, that they're going to want a little bit of inspiration in their lives. And there's nothing better in terms of inspiration in their lives than seeing images of somewhere like Australia and tempting them with the experiences that we can offer when the time comes.

So bushfire response has become even more critical in terms of the support we provide but we realise that it's insufficient when dealing with coronavirus. So as I'm speaking to you this morning, the Prime Minister and Treasurer we'll be announcing a nationwide package of support for the entire Australian economy but with a strong focus on our tourism and trade exposed sectors as well. That nationwide response is designed to try to boost economic activity in Australia.

So there'll be payments to households, targeted households just to get spending going. And I want to assure you that as those payments to households are made, we will be stepping up and expanding the domestic travel campaign to try to encourage people to choose when they're spending those payments to spend them by making a booking, by planning travel, and by undertaking trips within Australia to stimulate activity in your businesses.

We're also, as part of the multi-billion-dollar announcement today, supporting businesses directly. There will be payments to small and medium sized businesses that can help to ensure they get through these tough times and ideally, that they keep their employees on the books maintaining those critical skills that are necessary so that people, when they get to the other end, still have the most important assets in their business they've got — namely skilled staff and support there.

There'll be specific support for those who have apprentices and trainees to make sure that you can keep them on through these tough times. We're also making sure that we try to encourage where people can — investment. So the instant asset write-off that's been available for small businesses the last few years is about to be turbo charged, going from a $30,000 asset spend that can be written off instantly to $150,000 asset spend that can be written off instantly, and eligibility for businesses lifted all the way up to business with turnovers up to $500 million. Again, about getting investment spending happening, but an opportunity for those who can to say- if you need, if you are thinking about making an investment in your business for the future, well, now is a good time to do so. The tax system will be leveraged to help make it easier for you to do so, to encourage you to do so. And in doing so, we are preparing you to recover and recover faster, better in the future and have a better product to offer, because you're able to make those investments. Equally, to other tax measures in terms of forms of accelerated depreciation will be on the table. These all apply right across the economy to try to get all sorts of movement happening, and that is critical for all sectors, but especially indeed for the tourism and hospitality industry to see people investing, and through that investment, moving and engaging across society.

But there are aspects that will also be targeted to the industry. The Government's providing a $1 billion relief and recovery support fund to those industries most directly affected by the coronavirus crisis. Obviously, the tourism industry stands right there, front and centre in terms of how we will be looking at deploying that. I look forward to engaging close with those affected communities, communities especially impacted such as those in North Queensland, where of course the reliance on international visitation is a greater share of their market than most other parts of the country and the isolation from drive market or other forms of domestic tourism make the impact even greater. So we'll be focusing on how we can support those sectors, how we can make sure we're resilient across our business and event sector, how we can ensure as well that trade-exposed industries that we rely on as a tourism sector as well get through these times. There'll be additional support to bring forward parts of the domestic tourism campaign, to focus on opportunities in New Zealand, and to make sure that where we can get visitors through the door, we do get those visitors through the doors.

Now I know for many, it's still going to be incredibly tough times. But all of that effort to try to see people through and to try to increase visitation will still make it a challenging environment to be able to do business in. We must also look to the future. So while we're spending billions of dollars to try to help businesses with cash support and relief, with direct assistance targeted for the tourism industry and others, we also must invest in the recovery. Because we know from past experiences the bounce back can be strong but also will be competitive. When SARS happened, we saw the recovery in numbers happen very swiftly. That's of course what we hope for this time, but we know the duration of the bottom is going to be much longer this time. But as we look to that recovery, we need to invest and ensure that the support is there to get flight capacity to Australia back on board as quickly as possible, to ensure that people are back in the market place as quickly as possible, that TA is there in the international markets with our state and territory partners and all of our other commercial partners to inspire bookings to recover as quickly as possible. And I assure you that this relief and recovery fund that we're committing to today, and it is going to be used not just to help people through these tough times, but to ensure as well that we recover as quickly as possible when we get to the other end.

So today, you're going to have different types of discussions here at Destination Australia than you usually would. They're going to be tougher discussions, I’m sure, and they’re going to be discussions focused as much on matters of business resilience as they are on our tourism industry. Please, when you get the chance today, take a look at the multi-billion dollar measures that the Government's announced to try to help your businesses or the businesses in your communities or your industry sectors to get through this. Have a think about how you want to pitch and argue for support in targeted ways for parts of the industry, because we have the resourcing committed to do so where the case is strong, where the evidence is there, that a sector needs that additional support.

But most importantly as all, think positively that we will come out the other side, that the demand for destinations like Australia will be as strong, if not stronger than ever on the other side of this crisis, and that we need to be planning to make sure that we take advantage of those opportunities at that time. And your important support for doing so will be crucial.

I said at the Tourism Awards last Friday night in Canberra for those who were there — apologies that you’ll hear this again — but not long after the fires in the Adelaide Hills, I went up there and was visiting a vineyard where all the vines had been burnt, and they'd all been cut off. They’d all been cut off at ankle height, so it was just a little stump that was basically left in these vineyards. It was only a couple of weeks after the fires and it was only days since the chainsaws had gone through taking these vines out. And as I was walking through this vineyard and seeing the piles of dead and blackened vines there, I noticed out of one of those stumps, a green shoot, about that long, starting to poke up. I went back to some of those vineyards about a week ago. Now, that little green shoot is poking up well above sort of knee height, from an ankle height stump. It's a sign of resilience. We see it in nature. We see it across the fire-affected areas. We'll see it in this industry and across our community as well. I want to thank you all for being here, for showing how tough you are, how resilient you are, but also for the work I know that you will do in terms of helping to get us through the tough months ahead and to be even stronger, so that next year when we're talking at Destination Australia, it is absolutely about just how great this industry is and how well we're doing.

Thanks very much.

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