Australian tourism industry during COVID-19: One of our biggest industries is being destroyed

Everyone has a few friends like these. They're great to be around when the going is good. They turn up at all your parties – they invite you to all of theirs. You spend a lot of time together just having fun. You form a tight bond.

But then something goes wrong in your life, and they totally ghost you. Maybe you get sick, maybe you go through a break-up, maybe there's some other painful disruption. And these people just cease to exist. They don't want to know you. They'll appear again when you've sorted yourself out.

The tourism industry in Australia has a lot of these fair-weather friends. Right now, hoteliers and tour guides, air hosties and travel agents, destination managers and PR reps, cleaners and drivers, bar staff and waiters and so many more people – almost a million across Australia directly or indirectly involved in tourism – are all hurting, because they've come to realise something: their friends have disappeared.

Australians love to travel in the good times. It's part of our national identity, something we proudly spruik. From the long-held Indigenous tradition of the walkabout, to the modern-day gap years spent drinking at the Walkabout, we as a nation have always travelled, and we always will.

That's why it has been such a shock to so many in the industry to find that in the bad times no one cares about travel, and no one cares about those people who work in the industry.

And these are, undoubtedly, bad times. The worst. The federal government recently released modelling showing the Australian tourism industry will lose $55 billion this year, thanks to COVID-19 and its associated restrictions and closures. Fifty-five billion dollars if states keep their borders closed and other restrictions continue.

Imagine if tradies were about to take that sort of hit to their bottom line. Imagine if chippies and sparkies, brickies and plumbers were poised to collectively lose the net wealth of an entire country in the space of a year.

Imagine if that was going to happen to the coal industry: the value of coal exports in Australia is currently about $67 billion, so that would pretty much mean an entire industry wiped from the nation. Imagine if farmers were going to lose $55 billion.

There would be a national outcry. There would be something done. If we can find a way to shift AFL players around the country to play in their grand final then we would definitely be able to swing tradies some more work, or make special allowances to salvage big coal, or lend the farmers a hand. These industries occupy an important place in the Australian psyche, there's something solid and tangible and real about the work they do.

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But tourism? Nah. It's a bit of fun. Harmless frivolity for the good times.

And so state borders around the country remain shut tight despite – outside of Victoria at least – laughably minimal numbers of COVID-19 cases when compared to the rest of the world. Tourism businesses have no guide as to when this might change either, no chance to plan ahead, no way of forecasting or budgeting when everything they rely on could be altered at the drop of a political hat.

These border closures are also overwhelmingly popular with the general public. States don't want to open. People don't want to open. Yes, the tourism industry is being absolutely decimated, the economy is taking a huge hit, and JobKeeper will only keep businesses hanging on for so long – but, as someone said to me recently on Twitter, this is just an industry that makes memories. It can easily be given up until the good times return.

And maybe to you it is just memories. But to so many other people, to almost a million Australians, travel is a way of life. It's a job, it's a livelihood, it's a career. It's food on the table. It's money in the bank.

It's more than that, too. This is one of those rare industries where almost everyone involved is doing it not for the salary or the power or the perks, but because they love it. They absolutely love it.

And they love you. They love showing you a good time. They love making your dreams reality.

That's why it hurts so much to discover that no one really cares about the tourism industry. Not enough to do something, to make sacrifices or take risks. Not enough to lend a hand.

Instead of an outpouring of support and goodwill, the likes of which have been extended to workers in other industries, all people in tourism are seeing right now is story after story about dodgy travel agents on A Current Affair. They're seeing this shrug of indifference from the general public. They're feeling a cold-hearted push to "get a real job".

What counts as real? Mining? Farming? Building things?

I'm not writing this with any sort of hope of changing minds, of forcing international borders open or even getting states to crack their doors. I doubt people are going to suddenly start taking risks for an industry they see as fair-weather fun, the makers of memories.

I'm just hoping there will be some understanding. Maybe even some sympathy. Plenty of good people have a lot to lose this year. They could do with a few friends.

How do you feel about the travel industry now? Should more be done to help out? Should states be opening to get things moving? Or is this a good-time industry that can wait until recovery?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

See also: What to expect from your summer holiday this year

See also: You have to change how you travel and it's going to suck

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