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Labour shortage may mean tourism sector goes from bad to worse

Business

The tourism sector is likely to emerge from pandemic restrictions into another crisis created by a labour shortage unless immediate steps are taken, according to a Government-appointed panel.

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The panel’s report and its 100-day plan, released on Thursday, said was there was an urgent need to develop ways to counter the skills and labour shortages which threatened a crisis as soon as the visitor economy re-opened.

The Palaszczuk Government has said it would relaunch the work in paradise campaign which included cash payments of $1500 for eligible jobseekers.

The panel report has also called for an integrated aviation restart strategy as well as allowing vaccinated international students to be let back into Queensland without quarantine.

It also called for the restart of cruising (with support from the chief health officer), the cutting of red tape for the tourism sector and continued taxpayer support above the $1 billion the sector has already received.

The government has already rejected the student plan and instead will demand students quarantine for two weeks at the Wellcamp site from early next year.

“As we pointed out in our discussion paper in May, we are at a crossroads,” the panel’s chair Liz Savage said.

“As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, 11.3 million fewer visitors travelled to or within Queensland in 2020, equating to a loss of $12.3 billion in overnight visitor expenditure.”

This year there was an almost 20 per cent decrease in domestic visitation in the year ending June 2021 compared with pre-COVID levels.

However, the sector was in serious trouble before the pandemic and Savage made the point that Victoria overtook Queensland in total overnight visitor expenditure for the first time in 2019, driven by growth in international education and business events.

The panel also recommended that within three months the Government also identify land adjacent to National Parks or within protected areas with the potential for tourism development and the piloting of low-impact tourism opportunities with the private sector in protected areas or close to National Parks.

It also wants the appointment of “a whole-of-government champion” for advocating and actioning opportunities in the visitor economy.

The report said the sector needed to develop career pathways, professional qualifications and further education for entrants into the sector that is lowly regarded in career terms.

Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the plan recommended “weaning business off Zoom” and moving back to face-to face events and conventions to revive an industry previously worth $35 billion nationally.

He said more than $1 billion in direct support had been committed by the Palaszczuk Government to get tourism operators through the once-in-a-lifetime pandemic.

“With the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympic Games locked in, the panel and Government are focused on the unique global visitor and trade opportunities the next 20-years will bring to the Queensland economy,” Hinchliffe said.

“As identified by the Interim Action Plan, a Queensland First Nations Tourism Plan has enormous potential for development with tourists seeking out genuine Indigenous cultural experiences growing year-on-year,” he said.

“Queensland tourism operators need more staff to guarantee visitors the world-class tourism experiences they expect over the festive season.

“Although there are several southern workers waiting for the border opening on December 17, we’ll need to boost their numbers.

“Ultimately, we’re relying on Queenslanders getting the jab, particularly in popular destinations like the Whitsundays, where double-dose vaccinations are well below the State average.”

The panel would now create an action plan for the sector.

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