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Tourism leaders push for all domestic borders to reopen

Hotels are “bleeding cash flow”, the national cabinet is a failure, Victoria’s lockdown has been unnecessary and Western Australia has an unrealistic expectation of eliminating COVID-19, a tourism forum has heard.Hilton Australasia vice president of operations Heidi Kunkel says some hotels remain shut and many of the 3000 staff across the region have been on…

Hotels are “bleeding cash flow”, the national cabinet is a failure, Victoria’s lockdown has been unnecessary and Western Australia has an unrealistic expectation of eliminating COVID-19, a tourism forum has heard.

Hilton Australasia vice president of operations Heidi Kunkel says some hotels remain shut and many of the 3000 staff across the region have been on reduced hours and pay, as she pushed for the “lifeline” JobKeeper program to be extended.

“The end of JobKeeper coming up in the end of March next year, it’s going to be a very, very, very difficult scenario for the hotels,” she told the Virtual Borders Summit on Friday.

“We’re really going to need to be able to have corporate travel coming back, and that’s going to require opening of borders and getting some confidence back for people to be able to travel.”

Ms Kunkel said hotel owners needed certainty and clarity to know they would not be “bleeding cash flow” next year.

“They’ve bled enough in 2020 and we need to make sure that 2021 is not going to be a repeat of 2020,” she said.

Flight Centre chief executive Graham Turner said the company usually made $24 billion per year globally, but was down about 85 per cent.

“Living with this virus is going to be a fact of life for at least two, three or four years, maybe longer,” he said.

“Even if there is a vaccine, the chances of us eliminating it globally is just almost zero.”

Mr Turner said the national cabinet had been a failure and there was no scientific evidence that hard lockdowns, as in Victoria, even worked.

“It might not have been a total waste of time … but effectively if they had their contact tracing and testing system working, it almost certainly wasn’t necessary,” he said.

“We need to be one Australia, we need to have one policy, (and) ideally a national cabinet that actually works.”

Qantas Airways group executive Andrew Parker referred to New Zealand’s outbreak and how they “admirably” managed it, as he cast criticism towards WA’s strict border restrictions.

“It is almost an impossibility to imagine that no state, territory or country is going to be able to have an open economy without some degree of risk,” he said.

“That’s our concern like a state like WA. How will they ever open if the decision is essentially we want zero risk?”

Mr Parker also said if the Queensland border did not open it would be a disaster for the state’s economy, tourism operators and jobs.

“It is just a worry that we will then flow into next year and there will be no ability to meet some of these extraordinary criteria that seem to have emerged,” he said.

Mr Parker said people were desperate to travel and noted there had only been 44 confirmed cases of in-flight transmission out of 1.2 billion people.

Auckland Airport International chief executive Adrian Littlewood said there was still some anxiety and fear about the virus in the community.

“I think the border has been really tagged with that sort of sense of the gateway to fear, to a degree,” he said.

“There’s a task for all of us to do to demonstrate the confidence we can … that it is not a scary process and that aviation generally is a system that manages risk … in a sophisticated way.”

Ms Kunkel said it had been difficult to keep up with the changes between different jurisdictions.

“The greatest confusion has been the bureaucracy of every different state having different openings and different agendas and different politics,” she said.

“We have to be able to live with this disease. It’s not going to go away for a very long time.”

Ms Kunkel also commented that there were going to be growing issues around unemployment and especially mental health, which was not being tracked or recorded.

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Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus.