By Claire Ottaviano
ONE year after border closures all but shut the doors on the Swan Valley, some small business owners are now fighting the next battle as the end of JobKeeper strikes another blow to tourism in the region.
While many businesses are now thriving off a resurgence of weddings and alcohol-based bus tours, niche stores depending on international and interstate visitors are not faring as well, and without government support face an uncertain future.
Mondo Nougat owner Andrea Romeo said despite its pitfalls, JobKeeper was now leaving businesses high and dry when they needed help the most.
“The rug has been pulled out from underneath us now the end is in sight,” he said.
“We are very worried moving forward but we’re doing whatever we can to facilitate our staff.”
He said while JobKeeper had its issues, it went some of the way to tie staff to the business.
“I remain grateful the Government acted quickly to bring something in, but the inability to fix countless issues within the last 12 months has been remarkable,” he said.
“Over the 12-month period we were very hopeful they would do a good review and come out with JobKeeper 2.0 to fix the issues and do what JobKeeper was wheeled out to do – help businesses get through this – but unfortunately they didn’t.”
Those problems included expecting businesses to foot the JobKeeper payments before the program rolled-out and creating inequality between lower and higher paid staff.
“We’ve lost three staff along the way, highly valuable staff who we couldn’t afford to pay above JobKeeper,” Mr Romeo said.
“Then other staff were paid more on JobKeeper than they were before, if only we’d been able to pay staff on a percentage it would have made it more equitable.”
City of Swan chief executive Jeremy Edwards told Echo News while five Swan Valley cafes had closed and three accommodation providers closed permanently or temporarily due to COVID-19, many more had opened.
“The good news is that despite the pandemic, there have been at least 16 new openings in the Swan Valley, from small to large, including cafes, breweries, restaurants as well as retail, beauty and gallery businesses,” he said.
Mr Romeo said statistics showing the current boom and health of the local economy did not reflect the situation of many venues relying on the tourism market to get people through the door.
“I can ask five people why they come in the door and they say they’re taking out a friend from Sydney or overseas,” he said.
“Twenty per cent of that group is 100 per cent of the reason they’re here.
“Taking away that one person is detrimental.”
Mondo Nougat has also seen a decline in another previously strong market, the elderly, but Mr Romeo remains hopeful those customers will return with the vaccine rollout.
He also claims that while hotels and accommodation in the valley have been booked out, they’re filled with the wrong people, fly-in fly-out workers and long-term stays, not tourists.
Tourism Council WA’s latest industry survey revealed 29 per cent of tourism businesses were reducing staffing levels due to the end of JobKeeper.
“During March, business activity across the industry declined by 20 per cent, according to our latest survey of tourism businesses,” Tourism Council WA chief executive Evan Hall said.
“Tourism to WA is down, but businesses and jobs are not protected by either JobKeeper or the national vaccine rollout.
“Pairing that with the recent interstate border closure with Queensland and ongoing consumer uncertainty in interstate travel, we expect thousands of jobs to be lost across the industry.”
For the moment, Mr Romeo is taking the future week by week and estimates a return to normality could take up to 18 months.