High proportion of businesses in Busselton and Margaret River reliant on JobKeeper

The federal government's JobKeeper subsidy has been a lifine line for 30-year old tourism business Bushtucker Tours, pictured are Helen Lee, John Collinridge, Brenton Corbett and Peter Chandler. Image supplied.
The federal government's JobKeeper subsidy has been a lifine line for 30-year old tourism business Bushtucker Tours, pictured are Helen Lee, John Collinridge, Brenton Corbett and Peter Chandler. Image supplied.

Tourist hot spots across Australia hasthe highest proportion of businesses reliant on JobKeeper payments during the COVID-19 pandemic with local government areas in the South West ranking high.

The Federal Government's JobKeeper scheme is a temporary subsidy paid to eligible businesses that were financially burdened because of coronavirus.

In October the JobKeeper wage subsidy will be slashed with about 2.1 million workers across the country no longer eligible for the scheme and a further 400,000 workers from January.

People that remain on JobKeeper will lose at least $150 a week from October - and more for part-timers, after the government announced a two-tier JobKeeper payment.

Last week consulting firm Taylor Fry released data showed 44.63 per cent of businesses in Busselton were reliant on JobKeeper and 51 per cent in Margaret River.

Both towns ranked high in the analysis.

Taylor Fry director Jonas Christensen said data which had previously been released by Treasury showed that big city central business districts had a high uptake of JobKeeper.

Mr Christensen said while that made sense because there were lots of businesses registered in those areas it did not take into account the number of businesses which were registered in local government areas.

"We measured the number of businesses registered for JobKeeper relative to the number of people in that area," he said.

"It really gives you more of a measure for that area and how serious the impact is across the board."

Mr Christensen said they found tourist towns across the country had the biggest uptake of JobKeeper.

"The main tourist areas that are destination areas really have this challenge, and Margaret River is no exception with more than 50 per cent of businesses there being on JobKeeper," he said.

"It is fantastic that JobKeeper has been extended, without it there would be a huge, huge challenge, I do not think businesses could have pushed on without it.

"It is such a challenging time for everyone in those communities, the scheme is so important for those regions, it really is a lifeline."

Mr Christensen said not only would businesses directly involved in tourism be impacted, but everybody in those communities would feel the affect because it was a local economic system.

"Companies which are in retail, trade, construction or repairs in those tourism areas will also be impacted because they all work together," he said.

"If you are a plumber doing plumbing in your local area or local businesses and it is not needed you will be impacted too, it just has a ripple effect to everyone in the local community."

JobKeeper saves 30-year old business from closing

Bushtucker Tours owner Helen Lee said JobKeeper saved her staff and business.

After operating for 30 years and employing 132 people since its inception, coronavirus closed them down completely.

"We had to cancel $21,000 worth of food, supplies,buses, licences and orders. Today we are on a repayment scheme to pay back suppliers," Ms Lee said.

"It was peak season for us, if we did not have JobKeeper at that point we would have closed down and lost all our staff.

"JobKeeper was able to see us reopen and retain our key staff, then supplement their income, so we could continue paying their wages. JobKeeper has enabled a business of 30 years standing to restart and work with current restrictions and pay bills."

Ms Lee said for the business to grow into the future and to get people off JobSeeker there should be a job creation payment to get back old staff and respond to growing business opportunities.

"We need a job start up allowance," she said.

"JobKeeper is still vital, but it is the reemployment of people too going forward that is vital.

"We can't afford to reemploy or take on people in the current environment of COVID-19 (should things again close down)" she said.

"JobKeeper for people who had reputable businesses worked perfectly and will be vital to keep tourism open.

"To keep tourism going there needs to be a job restarter program to entice tourism operators to reemploy people.

"It costs more money for us to be compliant and meet regulations, so therefore correctly employing people going forward needs assistance like a restart supplement to a new wage earner in your business."

One of WA's most popular tourist attraction, the Busselton Jetty also relied on JobKeeper and was critical for them to push through a tough winter.

Busselton Jetty visitor numbers down 45 per cent

Busselton Jetty chief executive Lisa Shreeve said they reopened on May 18, 2020 but visitor numbers were down 45 per cent which meant there was less money coming in and that income was needed to pay wages.

"To maintain jetty staff hours and opening hours, JobKeeper is essential because most of our income is being used to pay fixed costs such as rent, power, water, insurance etc," she said.

"The closure of interstate and international borders means we rely on WA people spending their discretionary spend on tours and attractions which are great experiences, but when people have to decide between paying bills and putting food on the table, it is very difficult to see this changing going forward, especially when JobKeeper and Seeker amounts reduce on September 28.

"Hopefully the sun comes out and people who have not lost wages throughout the pandemic will get out and about and support tourism experiences because WA has some of the best in the world and we really need local support."

JobKeeper a lifeline

Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association chief executive Steve Harrison said there was no doubt that JobKeeper has been instrumental in enabling eligible tourism operators to remain in business.

"The program has been a lifeline for a large proportion of our members and without it the region would have risked losing many successful, sustainable businesses," he said.

"The businesses which have weathered the pandemic crisis so far have survived a devastating combination of disappearing income together with the necessity to continue to carry fixed business costs.

"It is not possible to repair this level of damage with a few weeks of healthy visitation, and for some businesses recovery will take years.

"It is crucial that our local tourism businesses continue to have access to economic support and MRBTA welcomes the extension of stimulus measures including JobKeeper."

Mr Harrison said from all reports the July school holidays were exceptionally busy, providing a welcome injection of tourism dollars into the region.

"Most operators are feeling optimistic about the next school holiday period, but there remains uncertainty around what visitor behaviour will look like post-September," he said.

"Pre-COVID-19 this region welcomed 325,000 interstate and international visitors per year, which represents a $256 million gap in visitor spend while borders remain closed.

"There are certainly opportunities to be found in targeting the captive intrastate market, as well as preparing for the eventual lifting of interstate borders.

"At MRBTA we are focussed on driving new and repeat domestic visitation over the months ahead, which includes assisting operators to develop new experiences and offer a deeper connection with people and place, which we know is a driver for domestic travellers."