MRBTA Member Resource: Responding to COVID-19

The Margaret River Busselton Tourism Association has a membership base of over 700 businesses across the Margaret River region and is also the region’s largest tourism operator, managing ground handling at Busselton Margaret River Airport and ten sites which encompass four caves, two lighthouses, one high ropes adventure course and three visitor centres.

We have created this coronavirus resource page based on our understanding of the developing situation and the issues currently being faced by you, our members. Although COVID-19 is not currently present in our region, we are advising businesses to undertake sensible precautions and planning exercises in order to prepare for the coming weeks and months. As business leaders, we encourage you to make decisions based on reliable, factual information sources and to take action which is in line with and in proportion to official advice.  

Latest Updates

 

UPDATE 29 March 2020:

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced new restrictions for gatherings in public places. The previous limit of 10 has been cut down to two. States will now decide whether to enforce the two-person limit. People must stay at home except for:
· Shopping for essentials
· Medical purposes
· Exercise
· Work and education if you cannot work or learn remotely

UPDATE 28 MARCH 2020:

Australia: Regional carriers thrown a lifeline by Federal Government.  Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, announced a $198 million Regional Air Network Assistance Package, assisting carriers to continue operation through the COVID-19 crisis. He said the $198 million in funding would underwrite airlines’ operating costs on selected regional routes, building on an earlier $715 million in support already announced for the struggling aviation sector.

UPDATE 27 MARCH 2020:

WA: The Premier announced new restrictions on travel across the state which prevents the movement of people between different regions. Travel between Western Australia’s regions will be restricted at midnight next Tuesday to halt the spread of COVID-19.

Regional boundaries mirror those of the state’s Regional Development Commissions. Mr McGowan said the Peel and Perth regions would be combined into one region, due to their close proximity. He said police would have the power to enforce restrictions of movement and those breaking the new rules could face fines of up to $50,000. Read the Premier’s statement.

Australia: The Prime Minister announced further measures for self-isolation.  All arrivals to Australia will now be quarantined in hotels in the city they arrive in. Read the PM’s media statement.

UPDATE 26 March 2020:

Shire of Augusta Margaret River: Funding package and rate freeze  – Two million dollars in recovery support, a zero percent rate increase in 2020/21 as a minimum and free outside school hours care for critical health and support workers during the pandemic are among the initiatives announced in the Shire of Augusta Margaret River’s COVID-19 Community Care Package.  Read more

Australia: National Cabinet agreed to an Australian Health Principal Protection Committee (AHPPC) recommendation to expand the current coronavirus testing criteria. Read more

The instruction regarding hairdressers – 30 minutes per patron has been lifted (effective immediately), but the 4sqm rule per person must be strictly observed within the premises and that personal contact during the patron’s visit should be minimised wherever possible.

OTHER RECENT UPDATES:

  • State Government issues new liquor restrictions
  • West Australians told to cancel their holiday plans and stay home.
  • International travel is now banned for Australians under the Biosecurity Act 2015.
  • Licensed clubs, pubs, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs and places of worship ordered to close. Restaurants and cafes restricted to takeaway service only. Accommodation hotels may continue to operate for the purposes of selling food or beverages for persons to consume off the premises.
  • Authorities in Western Australia declare a “major emergency” and state borders closed. Interstate arrivals will be required to self-isolate for 14 days, and the border controls will apply to all road, air, rail and sea access points.
  • The Commonwealth Government has released the 2nd stage of its economic plan. $189 billion is being injected into the economy by all arms of Government in order to keep Australians in work and businesses in business.
  • New social distancing measures introduced. For gatherings of fewer than 100 people in an enclosed space, the Government is now recommending four square metres per person.
  • Australian borders closed to all non-citizens and non-residents.
  • Jetstar announced the delay of the inaugural flights from Melbourne to Busselton which were due to commence March 25. (see FAQ: Will the Melbourne-Busselton continue to operate?)
  • TWA paused the ‘Do it in WA’ intrastate campaign, along with its interstate and international tactical campaigns.
  • Tourism Australia cancelled the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE), due to take place in Melbourne in May.
  • Non-essential indoor gatherings of greater than 100 people (including staff) are no longer be Permitted.  Read the Prime Minister’s statement.
  • Small business owners are encouraged to make use of the State Government’s new assistance centre as a one-stop resource for advice and guidance on managing the impacts of COVID-19. The Small Business Development Corporation (SBDC) will provide dedicated, timely guidance on available support options. The SBDC’s 133 140 hotline and website will deal specifically with queries from business owners looking to navigate the wide range of recently announced measures to alleviate the impacts of COVID-19. Read more
  • The Australian Government made it mandatory for all inbound international travellers to self-isolate for 14 days, (applied from March 16). Self-isolation applies to everyone who steps off any international flight. As part of the measure, cruise ships from international ports have also been banned.
  • Tourism WA had paused all international marketing activity effective immediately and are reviewing interstate activity.
  • The Australian Government banned cruise ships from foreign ports from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days, effective from Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Information Sources

The best way to ensure you are making the best decisions for your business is to consult up-to-date, fact-based information sources. Please find below a list of information sources which we feel are most relevant for MRBTA members.

World Health Organization (WHO) 

Useful for: Interactive global map of virus cases; Daily press briefings; Safety advice and training videos

Visit Website

Australian Government Department of Health

Useful for: Current status in Australia; Government emergency response plan; Government national health plan fund info

Visit Website

Australian Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Updates

Useful for: Transcripts of regular press conferences with CMO; Answers to FAQs; Advice on social distancing

Government of Western Australia Department of Health

Useful for: Daily snapshot of situation in WA; COVID clinic information

Australian Hotels Association

Useful for: Managing guests, health and safety protocols, legal and commercial implications, fact sheets for staff, guests and other resources.

Tourism Western Australia

Useful for: Coronavirus updates for WA’s tourism industry

Australian Taxation Office

Useful for: updates on government support and FAQs for businesses.

Margaret River Wine Association

Useful for: Specific COVID-19 updates for Wineries and cellar doors

Business Planning & Procedures

While the Margaret River region is currently free from COVID-19, there are a number of precautionary measures and planning exercises which we encourage your business to consider. Please find a summary of these below.

Operational Procedures

Staff Management

  • Australian Workplace Laws
    The Fair Work Ombudsman has released these guidelines on workplace entitlements and obligations if your business is affected by the outbreak of coronavirus.
  • Advice for employers from Safe Work Australia
  • Employer guide by the AHA, including guidance and stand-down tools, entitlement and obligations. Find out more.
  • Self-isolation
    How to self-isolate
    – via healthdirect.gov.au
  • Helping staff to seek support
    • The Australian Government Health Department Coronavirus Health Information Line is available via 1800 020 080, and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week
    • Coronavirus symptom checker – via healthdirect.gov.au
    • Beyond Blue mental health support (managing anxiety) via phone, online chat and email

Strategic Business Management

  • Tax relief and advice
    • The ATO has a useful COVID-19 information page where you can find out more about getting small business support. Learn more.

Financial assistance

  • The Federal Government’s business hotline is providing additional support to small and medium businesses impacted by COVID-19. Operations at the business.gov.au 13 28 46 Contact Centre will increase to 7 days per week, and provide additional hours of support outside standard operating hours for the first month, answering calls from 7am to 11pm AEST. Also visit treasury.gov.au/coronavirus/businesses.
  • If you are a new applicant to Centrelink to access federal government assistance, you need to start the process on myGov.  The website www.servicesaustralia.gov.au has information about how to set up an account or link an existing account to Centrelink.
  • The Small Business Development Commission is available to provide advice on State Government financial assistance – call the Hotline on 133140 or visit their website.
  • Contact free financial counsellors at the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007
  • Shire of Augusta Margaret River has released a COVID-19 Community Care Package. Read more here.

Preparing for Recovery

The region’s economy is heavily reliant on hospitality and tourism and while it is likely that we are still to experience the full impact of COVID-19, it is nevertheless crucial that we also plan for the future once the pandemic subsides, to ensure that the local industry has the best chance of recovery. Driving domestic visitation will play a key role in this recovery and the tourism industry peak bodies are committing substantial levels of investment in marketing campaigns encouraging Australians to holiday domestically.

MRBTA members may wish to be aware of the following initiatives:

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have a question which you would like the MRBTA team to answer, please email membership@margaretriver.com 

Can my business remain open?

That depends. As of midday Monday 23 March 2020, any attendance on-premise at hotels, pubs, taverns, bars, restaurants, cafes and any other hospitality venues is not prohibited.

The only exemptions will be for accommodation hotels and limited to them providing food and beverage for in-house guests only.

For those licensed premises with a license that allows for takeaway alcohol, restricted arrangements come into effect on Monday 23 March. This includes cellar doors. No tastings can occur, but businesses may sell take away alcohol as long as they abide by the social distancing rules.

Take away and home delivery of food is still allowed. Indoor sporting venues (including gyms) and places of worship will close. Hairdressers and beauticians can remain open at their discretion. Shopping Centres have not been closed.

In summary, ALL licensed indoor and outdoor areas are to be closed as of midday Monday 23 March 2020. For more information visit the AHA WA’s dedicated web updates.

Is the region currently experiencing a decline in visitation?

Anecdotal evidence from members suggest emerging trends in cancellations of forward bookings, particularly from international visitors, and this is set to continue with the announcement of the imposed a universal precautionary self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals into Australia.

MRBTA is also able to share the following visitation trends by country of origin for its attractions (caves, lighthouses, high ropes adventure course). These statistics are for the last 30 days at 10th March, 2020 vs 2019:

Country Var %
China -76%
Malaysia -22%
Hong Kong -12%
Singapore -8%
UK -6%
NZ -4%
Germany -2%
Intrastate 0%
USA 3%
Interstate 6%
France 9%
Other International 12%
Indonesia 17%
India 46%

How should my business respond to customer cancellations?

The best outcome for both the business and the customer is normally to offer to move the booking or issue a voucher.

As long as cancellation policies are within the guidelines of the ACCC, leniency is at the member’s discretion. Your business cash flow situation will also be an important factor in whether or not you are able to offer a refund.

You may also wish to take into account the following factors when making decisions:

  • OTAs such as Expedia have increased the flexibility of their cancellation policies
  • Potential impact on your business reputation
  • Potential impact on customer relationships

In terms of MRBTA’s own cancellation policy at its attractions, this currently stands as follows:

  • A full refund will be provided for cancellations received by close of business (5.00pm WST) on the day prior to the tour booking.
  • In the event of ‘no shows’, or cancellations later than close of business (5.00pm WST) on the day prior to the booking, we may charge the full cost of the booked tour(s).

However, it is important to note that MRBTA is able to offer this level of flexibility because these tours are not on-demand, i.e. staff are not rostered on in direct relation to a specific booking.

Are regional events still going ahead?

The following regional events have been postponed, rescheduled or cancelled:

  • Emergence Creative 25-27 March POSTPONED
  • Good Day Sunshine 21 March RESCHEDULED TO OCTOBER 2020
  • South West Yoga Fest 20-22 March CANCELLED
  • Margaret River Pro 22 April – 2 May POSTPONED
  • Readers & Writers Festival 15-17 May CANCELLED
  • ANZAC Day Commemorations CANCELLED
  • Jazz by the Bay May 29- June 4 CANCELLED
  • Open Studios April 25 – May 10 RESCHEDULED TO SEPTEMBER OR OCTOBER 2020

Will the new Melbourne-Busselton Jetstar route continue to operate?

Jetstar announced on 19 March that they would delay the inaugural flights from Melbourne to Busselton which were due to commence March 25. It is not sustainable for Jetstar to launch a new flight route at this time.

Jetstar will review the scheduled start date in May 2020 and we will keep you up to date with any more information that we receive.

We are saddened to be sharing this news, given the work that has gone into preparing for the flights from all members within the region as well as the team at MRBTA. The health and well-being of the community however, remains the priority at this time.

We have every reason to believe that the route will commence at the earliest possible opportunity, and that the route will have a better chance of success if it is launched at a time when visitors themselves are more comfortable about travelling interstate.

Have cruise ships to the region been cancelled?

The Australian Government has banned cruise ships from foreign ports (including round trip international cruises originating in Australia) from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days, effective from 11:59pm, Sunday, March 15, 2020. Arrangements will be made for certain cruise ships already in transit to help Australian citizens and permanent residents to get off those ships.

A number of cruise ship arrivals to Busselton have been cancelled, with some of these due to the impact of coronavirus. For further information, please see our cruise ship arrival calendar.

Why are the regional brand workshops still going ahead?

MRBTA will continue to carry out the regional brand workshops from 16-20 March 2020 as these gatherings fall within the current health advice. There are 6 workshops scheduled to take place in Busselton, Dunsborough, Margaret River and Augusta, with the number of participants registered at these sessions ranging from 9 to 40 people. The workshops will be led by Frank Bethel from Forward Scout, who is scheduled to fly in from Sydney in order to carry out the work. The workshops are an essential part of the project underway to evolve the region’s destination brand, with the sub-regional branding approach being particularly relevant for the attraction and dispersal of intrastate visitors.