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Retailers and business groups are quietly optimistic about the return of international tourists but also caution that an Australia-wide approach to COVID management needs to be put in place.
Australia’s largest retail representative body, the Australian Retailers Association (ARA), said the reopening of the international border is a welcome relief for businesses particularly small businesses that are heavily reliant on international tourists, including travel retailers and tourism operators, who’ve experienced significant downturns since the pandemic hit.
ARA chief executive Paul Zahra said the announcement is an important confidence boost for business and it sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that Australia is finally back open for business.
“This has been a long time coming, after more than 700 days cut off from the rest of the world. It’s critical to business confidence that we remain consistent in our plans to reopen and stay open,” Mr Zahra said.
“Whilst this is a positive step in our Covid recovery, it will take years for international travel patterns to return to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels. It means a slow and staggered recovery rather than an immediate snap back to the way things were in 2019. Tourism is a key driver of economic growth with international visitors spending around $45 billion in 2018-19, before the pandemic hit.”
However, Mr Zahra said it is important that the states and territories are aligned in their approach to managing overseas arrivals.
“We’re going to repel tourists if they have to go into quarantine for several days,” he said.
“Western Australia remains a roadblock to our global positioning with its border remaining closed. We call on the WA State Government to set a date for the reopening, so the country is united in its approach to living with Covid.”
The Business Council of Australia CEO, Jennifer Westacott, said while opening the borders to international travellers and tourists is a critical step in the country’s economic recovery there needs also to be consistency for all domestic travellers as well, especially in regard to Western Australia’s strict quarantine guidelines.
Australia’s reopening to the world signals the next critical step in our management of COVID-19 and positions us to supercharge our economic recovery, Ms Westacott said.
“Businesses in all states and territories have been devastated by the loss of tourism, including in regional areas. Some have had to shut their doors forever,” she said.
“This is welcome news for small business owners all over the country. However, as tourism operators kick start into gear in Townsville, Launceston and the Barossa, those in Broome and the Margaret River are still facing indefinite and crippling uncertainty.
“In two weeks’ time it will be easier for a Londoner to visit the Great Barrier Reef than it will be for a Melburnian to travel to Perth. This is a blight on our international reputation and devastating to WA’s ability to attract both investment and talent.
“We strongly encourage WA to send a clear signal by setting a date to safely reopen and sticking to it.”