Budget in Reply Speech - Tourism

Tourism section of Zoe's budget in reply speech

You can find the transcript of the full section below:

Let me now turn to tourism because the tourism sector, as has been acknowledged, has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. With our national borders closed to the rest of the world and snap border closures across the nation hindering interstate travel, the toll on this sector has been enormous. We have seen a massive decline in our annual visitor economy from a high of $8.1 billion at the end of December 2019 to now just $4.7 billion. It is expected that this will decrease even further this year. Let's just hear that again: a massive decrease of $3.4 billion to the South Australian economy. What does that mean? It means jobs—jobs lost in a significant industry. It means real people losing their livelihood in what was previously a growth industry sector.

Let us remind ourselves that, prior to COVID, 18,000 businesses were engaged in the visitor economy, employed in tourism and hospitality, and we had reached a high of 40,500 people directly employed in this industry. It is not up for debate. It is a simple fact that the visitor economy has taken a massive hit. You would think that a sector of our economy that has had a $3.4 billion hit would deserve continued attention—not just one-off but continued attention. That is what is so disappointing.

Many of the employers in this space tend to be run by families who run smaller microbusinesses. Tourism Research Australia data in June 2020 showed that 89.8 per cent of businesses in this space are small. Smaller businesses, usually family run, employ between one and 19 employees. With the end of JobKeeker, we sadly saw that a number of them closed their doors, particularly those reliant on international travel that could not easily or economically pivot to the domestic market, such as travel agents.

We know that with snap border closures our tourism operators face instant cancellations, so I know today we will have tourism operators throughout South Australia accepting cancellations and spending their time arranging refunds. I am not criticising the need to close borders. What I am drawing attention to is the continued impact on our visitor economy. It needs our attention; it needs our support.

Of course, even before COVID-19 tourism was an incredibly competitive space. Marketing our state to ensure that we maintain our state's percentage of domestic tourism is vital, and we are going backwards on that metric. The South Australian Tourism Commission National Visitor Survey, released in March, shows that our interstate overnight trips decreased from 2019 to 2020 by a whopping 61 per cent—61 per cent.

As I have talked about in this house before, there is a two-speed economy emerging in tourism post COVID. Whilst some operators in some regions have reported good summer bookings and early signs of a positive winter, this is patchy at best. In fact, the government's own budget papers state:

It is important to note that the impact on the regional visitor economy of COVID-19 has not been uniform, and there are many regional tourism operators, particularly those previously reliant on international, interstate or corporate markets, for whom business conditions remain suppressed.

That is in your own budget papers. The Tourism and Transport Forum's previous analysis has reported that the South Australian Tourism Commission would need at least $400 million over the next four years to address the economic black hole the pandemic and the bushfires have left.

Despite this landscape, this budget has continued in the true Marshall Liberal government style by rolling out more cuts in this important sector—$20 million of them, in fact, over the next four years. Let me just read this out for you. When we look at the operating expenses for tourism for 2021 it is $96 million; in the coming financial year, down to $92 million; in 2023-24, down to $88 million; then $75 million; and by 2024-25 it is $72 million.

This is a massive cut. This is even more concerning given the fact that nearly $10 million of this is being cut from the tourism marketing budget this coming financial year. So at a time when our competitors are investing to market their states, to maximise their holiday at home advantage, South Australia is going backwards.

Tourism is a job creating sector, and it creates jobs fast. We know that every dollar invested in tourism exponentially grows our visitor economy and with it brings jobs. South Australia regained the unwanted title of highest unemployment rate in May with 5.8 per cent. We have 53,900 people looking for work, and it beggars belief that instead of using this as an opportunity to grow and support this sector we saw nothing of that in the budget. So I am genuinely starting to believe that this government either does not get it or, possibly worse, places no value in it.

Our Premier, Premier Marshall, is responsible for tourism. Where was your voice for this industry? You are letting them down. You think your job is done. You are abandoning them. It is not done. This is a government that does not believe that tourism is worthy of government support, despite the sector being largely made up of mum-and-dad businesses in regional South Australia.

Let's talk about the vouchers because this Marshall Liberal government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do anything to help the tourism sector. From as early as June 2020, the Labor opposition was calling on the state government to launch a travel voucher scheme to assist the sector, similar to the one in the NT and Tasmania.

The Great State Voucher scheme, when it was finally announced in October, only covered specific accommodation providers, excluding other businesses, such as hospitality, travel agents, experiences, tours and attractions, offering $50 vouchers in regional areas and $100 for the CBD and North Adelaide. This is well short of the $200 vouchers proposed by the opposition, which would have covered the entire state and all people and businesses involved in tourism.

Once dragged to the party, the first iteration of the scheme was stingy and narrowly focused, benefiting only 3 per cent of all listings on the government-run southaustralia.com. It was only in response to lobbying on behalf of other tourism-related operators that finally in round 3 there was support for tourism experiences. I had someone talk to me the other day who said it was fantastic for their small startup. They had $9,000 worth of bookings through that experiences voucher—something that we had been calling for from the very beginning.

We know that when JobKeeper was ending people were very concerned about what was going to happen to the tourism industry. Many people believed that the Morrison government would extend JobKeeper for those involved in tourism, but of course it did not happen. We know the tourism vouchers have had some success.

However, we remain concerned about their low redemption rates and the fact that it was bungled from the beginning, focusing just on accommodation and not supporting travel agents and experiences. You have to wonder what the outcome might have been for this voucher scheme had it been correctly targeted and properly promoted with a broad registration of operators and businesses across the sector.

I want to touch on events because the Premier, with great acclaim, started the events advisory committee in November 2020 to supercharge the events calendar after the axing of the Adelaide 500 Supercars race. When we asked the chief executive of the SATC, Rodney Harrex, for a definition of the group's role recently in the Budget and Finance Committee, this is what he said:

The group acts as a think tank, in terms of providing a forum to share suggestions and ideas regarding additional leisure event opportunities for South Australia.

So South Australians have been asking: what is going to replace the Adelaide 500? Let us remind ourselves that in 2019 the Adelaide 500 injected $45.9 million into the state's economy and attracted more than 15,000 interstate visitors. It was a shock announcement when this Premier made the decision to cut this event. Let's be clear: this decision is still burning in the community. They are angry about the axing, and that is why Labor—agile and led by a great leader—made the decision to commit to South Australians that Supercars will be back.

It is six months since the establishment of the events advisory committee—six months—and there is not one new major event to replace the cancellation of the Adelaide 500. What was the point of this Events Advisory Group? There are some great people around that table, yet nothing has been announced.

There is an interesting definition of what a new event seems to encompass. In fact, in the budget papers, apparently there are new events happening, but they are not quite what we were thinking. Apparently, annual events that have been resecured by the SATC, such as the Masters Games or the State of Origin, are now new major events. Apparently, the 10 years at the Adelaide International at Memorial Drive is considered a new event. Exhibitions at the Art Gallery are now new events. Securing a change of sponsor may also trigger capturing new event status. These are not new events: this is business as usual. This is what the Tourism Commission does. None of these events come anywhere close to replacing the economic impact of or the jobs lost from the Adelaide 500.

With no Adelaide 500, we now have a massive hole in our events calendar. With the continued closure of national borders, the Tour Down Under is likely to be small again. How are we going to replace those 15,000 interstate visitors here? When you look at this, others have done more. Just last week, New South Wales announced a $200 million fund to market for significant events. There is nothing like that is in this budget. The impacts of COVID will be with us in the tourism industry for many years.