MPs call for new voucher system to save tourism and events sectors

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Victoria’s tourism and events sectors are in urgent need of financial and mental health support, with a parliamentary inquiry calling for a new voucher system to help beleaguered businesses survive the pandemic.

The resumption of JobKeeper for the sectors, better access to mental health services for struggling businesses and the establishment of an events industry taskforce are other key recommendations from cross-party MPs on the economy and infrastructure committee.

Victoria’s tourism industry has lost billions of dollars during the pandemic. Credit:Paul Jeffers

The committee found that while the state government had established a $2.6 billion business support fund, many operators in tourism and events were ineligible and missed out. It also called on the government to consider other options to provide financial support for these businesses.

A report from the inquiry into the effect of the pandemic on tourism and events was tabled in the State Parliament on Tuesday after hearing from more than 50 witnesses.

The inquiry heard the pandemic had placed major strain on the mental health of tourism and events businesses.

“This issue is particularly serious in regional Victoria, due to a combination of physical and social isolation and the ongoing recovery from the 2019-20 bushfires,” the report said.

F1 fans flock to the 2017 grand prix in Melbourne. Bans on crowds have had a devastating effect on the events industry. Credit:Jason South

The committee recommended expanding the Victorian voucher scheme, in which a person who spends $400 on accommodation or other tourism-related costs gets $200 back from the government. But it called for the initiative to be adapted to encourage people to go away in the middle of the week and not just on weekends.

It also wants a similar voucher initiative for the events sector.

Events operators told the committee the state government was too slow to provide feedback on COVID safety plans for public events and the process needed to be accelerated.

Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said the state’s tourism sector had lost $21.5 billion in the year to March, with Melbourne bearing much of the financial damage.

She said the committee’s suggestion that the state government provide more guidance on how its health response will change when more people are vaccinated was particularly important for businesses to plan ahead.

“We have relied on pulling the levers of lockdowns and rolling restrictions,” she said. “Hopefully, when we see higher levels of vaccination, they [lockdowns] will not be the primary go-to points.”

The state government has six months to formally respond to the committee’s report.

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