Regional Column from Victorian Chamber Chief Executive, Paul Guerra

Australia really is the lucky country. We are spoilt with some of the most beautiful landscapes and natural environments in the world. From beaches to snowfields, mountains to desert, we have it all.

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Most of us are looking forward to enjoying those picturesque surrounds over the holiday season. Our visitor economy and the many businesses that support it certainly need our patronage right now.

Victoria’s visitor economy copped the full wrath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which came after bushfires had already scorched the earth and, with it, the livelihoods of many tourism, accommodation and events operators. In 2019, tourism, events and the arts contributed more than $32 billion to the Victorian economy overall. This plummeted to $8.9 billion in 2020-21.

We must reimagine the structure and future of our tourism industries to give the sector the best chance to roar back.

The Victorian Chamber is working closely with key parts of the tourism sector to address key challenges and opportunities. We are currently conducting research and engaging with our many valued members in the sector to ascertain exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.

Our strong relationships with our members, the businesses at the coal face of the visitor economy, are what enable us to shape and articulate our asks of government to ensure their perspectives are known and their needs are factored in as policy is shaped and budgets are set.

Our preliminary findings have revealed several areas of opportunity including support for asset retention and investment and increasing visitor length of stay. The average length of stay for Victoria’s tourism market was 19 per cent down in 2020-21 compared with 2019-2020.

Access to and retention of skilled workers is an issue that is playing out across numerous sectors, likely the entire economy, and we know that the visitor economy is not immune from this escalating problem.

The Victorian Chamber is investigating possible short and long-term mitigation measures including restoring priority subclasses and reimagining our vocational education and training system to cultivate a sustainable pipeline of skilled workers in visitor services, hospitality and the arts. In Germany for example, students can choose an intensive vocational education stream from the early years of high school. Victoria, the education state, should be the first in Australia to apply this model.

The regions will be central to the recovery and future of Victoria’s visitor economy and we will investigate policy options to grow the agritourism sector, increase regional connectivity, repair major-scale natural assets and attract events to Regional Victoria.

We should be broadening our gaze to new visitor markets. It’s unlikely China will recover its place as our most important source for tourists for some years, meaning we need to seize the opportunity to welcome guests from other nations – especially those with robust COVID-19 vaccination rates and safety measures like Singapore and South Korea. 
The visitor economy should also capture opportunities for innovation. This could include a government-backed joint equity fund for high potential start-ups and ventures as an option to foster growth while building sector resilience.

The Victorian Government’s $106 million regional tourism investment fund announced recently will help regional operators to start new ventures to attract more visitors, and for longer. There’s also the opportunity to improve regional tourism infrastructure and repair parks and natural attractions that remain damaged from the bushfires.

Beyond investment, we need to make it easier for regional operators to start up and test new business models. We could base it on the Tasmanian model, with its booming agritourism economy due, in part, to a radical streamlining of 32 planning permissions into a single, easy process to start up a new cellar door or paddock to table offering.

Finally, we know that a world-class marketing campaign is the not-so-secret sauce to a thriving visitor economy. What better time to market Victoria as we sit as one of the most vaccinated places in the world? Our world-class events calendar dotted with such global spectaculars as the Australian Open Grand Slam, F1 Grand Prix and Moto GP provide an ideal hook, supported by our superior tourism offer.

Let’s dream big Victoria! We have the foundations and now we need the ambition, direction and action to put Victoria back on the map.

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