Victorian MPs recommend new voucher scheme for events

A parliamentary inquiry has resulted in the recommendation of a new and improved voucher system for Victoria’s hard-hit tourism and events sectors.

MPs were tasked with assessing the impact of the pandemic on the tourism and events businesses and tabled a report in state parliament last week following public hearings in Melbourne and regional Victoria.

The committee found that while the state government had pumped $2.6 billion of support into recovery, many businesses were ineligible for or missed out.

The report also uncovered the pandemic had heavily impacted the mental health of regional Victorian businesses due to a combination of both physical and social isolation, as well as the ongoing recovery from the 2019-20 bushfires.

“The effects of COVID-19 on mental health within the tourism sector are widespread. The committee heard concerns that financial challenges and uncertainty facing the tourism sector will have ongoing effects on mental health,”  it says.

Cross-party MPs from the economy and infrastructure committee outlined the ongoing challenges faced by both industries, including low operator and public confidence, particularly in terms of the risks around future public health restrictions.

“For the events sector, this is particularly stark in light of the inability to access event cancellation insurance,” the report says.

“Tourism faces an uncertain future in terms of managing peaks in domestic tourism demand and having no firm date for when international borders will reopen. In addition, both sectors face workforce and skills shortages.”

The committee recommended the Victorian government extend its travel voucher schemes, including ensuring they are redeemable during off-peak periods too, encouraging midweek getaways and push for interstate travel.

The Regional and Melbourne Travel Voucher Schemes provided a $200 reimbursement where a person has spent at least $400 on accommodation, experiences, tours and attractions.

“A limitation of the scheme was that the vouchers were released during peak holiday periods,” the report says.

“The committee makes recommendations around expanding the scheme and providing a more targeted approach to reflect the different demands of each individual tourism region and encourage off-peak and mid-week visits.”

The committee has called for a similar scheme for the events industry to incentivise events within the state and encourage public attendance.

Other recommendations included updating the National Cabinet’s plan to transition from a suppression strategy to a management strategy in conjunction with increases in vaccination rates with ‘trigger’ dates and vaccination rates.

For the tourism sector, the committee said support is needed to ensure that destination management plans are in place and reflect each region’s individual needs for recovery.

It also recommends the Victorian government work with the Commonwealth government to ensure that skilled tourism workers are prioritised for visas when international borders reopen.

“While domestic tourism has seen some recovery, the committee learned that domestic visitation is often ‘profitless volume’. This has not compensated for the loss of international tourists,” the report says.

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

While stay-at-home orders have been lifted for regional Victoria, the state government announced earlier today that Melbourne’s lockdown will be extended for another week.

Featured image source: iStock/bcerasani