It's been apparent during our COVID journey that this, our greatest challenge requires strong leadership and vision.
I had the pleasure this week of listening as the Managing Director of Tourism Australia, Pip Harrison, outlined her vision for tourism recovery on the journey "to COVID normal".
As the vaccination program begins to roll out and Australia enjoys the geographical benefits of being an Island in the Southern Hemisphere we are still a long way from returning to the life we knew in January 2020.
What has become clear is that as the level of risk drops to appropriate levels, we need to move on or accept wrapping ourselves in cotton wool for the near future, and that means years not months.
We need to move from COVID zero, to COVID normal.
International leisure travel, as we knew it is unlikely to return in 2021.
The cruise industry may return later this year as a domestic product far different to what we once knew.
Domestic travel is critical to reviving local economies.
In the February consumer sentiment survey from Tourism Australia, the major impediment to domestic travel was not fear of the virus. It was found 41% of people surveyed were not confident of travelling interstate because they feared being locked out through domestic border closures.
We have all learnt more about the Constitution and the responsibilities the Federal government does and does not have during this process but the lever to unlock domestic tourism lies with a nationally consistent approach to domestic border closures.
We will never be confident booking flights to visit relatives on the other side of the country or taking the kids to the Gold Coast until there is a sensible approach to borders closures. It can't be political, it can't be reactionary. If it continues, it will be the death knell of tourism in our country. And all of the jobs which go with it.
We need to champion creative solutions for opening up our international border to cohorts who support our economy.
Universities are being decimated by the lack of international students.
In the February consumer sentiment survey from Tourism Australia, the major impediment to domestic travel was not fear of the virus. It was found 41% of people surveyed were not confident of travelling interstate because of border closures.
Regional areas are being badly impacted by the lack of young adventure travellers taking on jobs which apparently are unattractive to Australians. The knock on effect among others are crops aren't being picked, hurting Australian farmers badly.
Creating an international gateway, reliant on an international vaccination agreement is critical to our economy returning to any semblance of normal.
Creating greater understanding of employment opportunities available in regional Australia also seems like a COVID no brainer.
What does this all of this mean for Wollongong?
It gives us great hope.
Demand in the tourism industry across all markets is greater than ever.
Tourism will be bounce back, visitors will return and we need to be ready.
We have a "north star" in the UCI Road World Cycling Championships in September 2022.
This will indeed be Wollongong's Olympic moment and our City needs to buy a new dress, do its hair and make up and ensure this is an opportunity we make the most of.
I used to say this wont come again but every day that goes by, I become more confident that when we get this right, something even bigger will be next on our door step.
There is no doubt that we have a couple of tough months ahead and we need to stick together.
Support local businesses, whether than be graphic designers, burger bars or transport companies.
Dominoes might be breaking records but for every business that is, there are ten who aren't.
Book, don't talk about what your next holiday might look like. When you can, buy the steak not the schnitzel. Not that there is anything wrong with the schnitzel, but those extra $3 make a difference to small business.
Job Keeper will end on April 1 this year. However, there is increased confidence that for a small number of affected industries and regions some level of additional support may be provided. To those who need it, it is a wonderful solution but at best, it's short term.
It's time we made a commitment and booked our way to a COVID normal future. There is no other way forward.
- Mark Sleigh is the general manager of Destination Wollongong
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