Twelve months on from the start of the covid-19 pandemic all projections indicate we are heading for a strong domestic tourism dry season, especially in the Top End.
Our reverse seasonality means that there is nowhere better to be during the miserable southern winter than the Northern Territory.
It does not mean all the Territory will see these benefits. Central Australia’s hospitality market operates differently to the Top End and so there really is a two-speed economy now in tourism and hospitality.
The Top End has a higher local population and a higher focus on domestic tourists versus international tourists in Central Australia and in the short to medium term this imbalance will have some negative impacts.
From the moment restaurants across the Territory could open on 15 May last year, they have had solid bookings. From 5 June 5, when we could go back into the pubs, an element of normality returned. This strong trend continued through to the end of last year and right through to January of this year.
Many businesses that would normally focus on international tourists were able to re-engineer their products towards the Territorian market.
The Adelaide covid lockdown just before Christmas made families who had not yet decided whether to go or stay think again and everyone who chose to stay in the Territory was vindicated as the northern beaches of Sydney all got locked down and that again provided a local boost to business.
Internationally, Australians spend $20 billion travelling overseas, which is more than we get from overseas people travelling in Australia. So that is why whether it is locals or domestic Australian travellers coming to the Territory in 2021 we need to harness as much of this expenditure as possible.
The voucher system has been great, and we could see that it could be used as a tool in the shoulder or traditionally quiet wet season every year. It has been useful in ensuring that there’s circulation of cash flow into the tourism sector.
The official return figure for every dollar spent through the voucher system is $2.41. We feel the return is much higher because the official figure looks at the directly booked product. It does not pick up the additional spend that has occurred when someone goes and has a staycation in a place such as Katherine.
The family on the road trip will spend in the restaurants on the way so we know the stimulus has impacted them as well, so we think the return is probably more like five to one for every dollar spent in the program.
We are still not out of the covid woods yet. A lockdown in Darwin or Alice Springs could still occur at any time so that is still the most pressing uncertainty. Southern states’ border restrictions can come back in quickly and we could see, if that occurred, our booked customers evaporate very quickly.
We have been running proactive adverts thanking people for doing the right thing to ensure we stayed covid safe and to ensure they continue to follow the rules and check-in to our venues.
If we ever had the horrible situation of being in a short, sharp lockdown having the ability to trace people appropriately and quickly around an infection is important and it gives the Government confidence to reopen us quicker, so it is in the industry’s interest to ensure our patrons do the right thing.
Alex Bruce is the Chief Executive Officer of Hospitality NT.