There was a story last week about the current delays for people applying for and renewing passports, as international travel starts to wind back up and many of us are busy planning for a future trip abroad. While the current lengthy wait for passports would be incredibly frustrating if your departure date was looming and you still didn’t have the documentation you needed, it is pleasing to see our lives returning to some normality and suitcases are getting dusted off and prepared for a long-awaited holiday.
The plight of the nation’s tourism industry in the past few years has been well documented and has certainly been a barometer for the impacts of pandemic restrictions. The fact passports are being applied for again, an increasing number of planes are utilising our airports and hotel accommodation is in demand again in peak periods speaks louder than words about Australia’s – and the world’s – COVID recovery.
What’s particularly pleasing to see – and hear – are the stories of recovery for some of our smaller tourism operators. I know of a caravan park operator in Deniliquin whose business, like thousands of others, was devastated by lockdowns and restrictions. Bookings obviously plummeted – and the fact Deniliquin is so close to the border with Victoria, which had arguably the toughest restrictions in the world, meant this operator’s business was more vulnerable than others.
However, I heard from him a few weeks ago, and was so happy to hear things are finally starting to turn around. They had a ‘great’ Easter and school holiday period, with an increase of nearly 30% on last year, and 45% on the previous year. They’ve decided to capitalise on the nation’s tourism renewal, too, and invested in new accommodation facilities which have proved popular.
He wrote: “Forward bookings for 202/23 are at an all-time high thus far, so it looks like the next financial year will be even bigger. I can’t wait to see what a full year of trading looks like. Let’s hope Deniliquin as a whole is able to harness the increase in both Victorian tourists as well as the many new NSW visitors we picked up over the past two years.”
Such a great story and only one of so many at the moment. We know international travel is still to reach its pre-pandemic highs, and there are certainly regions that rely on international visitors for much of their tourism revenue. But, the recovery is definitely on in terms of people travelling again. What is proving more problematic is staffing levels at many food and accommodation venues, and tourist attractions, and the solutions for this are proving as elusive as the passports many would-be travellers are waiting for.
The fact the number of backpackers are still relatively low is certainly playing a part, but encouraging residents back to these roles is also vital. There are many accounts of people applying for, and then actually being offered jobs, who at the last minute send a text message saying they won’t be taking it up, or who simply just don’t turn up on the day.
This is going to be one of our biggest challenges when it comes to getting our state, and national, economies back on track and firing, and it’s no doubt occupying the minds of our new government. As the Deniliquin caravan park owner said, his operation’s recovery is inextricably linked to the fortunes of the regional town where he resides, and if our valuable hospitality and tourist economy doesn’t have all the resources it needs to return to ‘business as usual’ then the ‘ripple effect’ is going to be profound.