All posts by Mike Barrow

Mike arrived in Sydney in 1989 as a typical British backpacker with $17 and one phone number. He also decided Sydney was paradise living in a three bedroom unit with 17 other backpackers. He eventually managed to get a proper job in a small backpacking publishing company. After spending four years trying to get residency, Mike finally 'got in' and set up his own company, Travel Maps Australia in 1993. In 2000 the Company rebranded to THE WORD and in 2014 started The Byte. Mike lives in Sydney's northern beaches, keeps fit and healthy and wouldn't live anywhere else.

COVID-19 pandemic leads to 50,000 fewer backpackers in Australia, prompting parliamentary inquiry

Backpackers will be the focus of a new federal parliamentary inquiry designed to help tourism, health and farm sectors recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Key points:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has meant there are 50,000 fewer working backpackers in Australia
  • A parliamentary inquiry will look at how to help the tourism, health and farming sectors recover economically
  • The inquiry will also look at the possibility of out-of-work Australians taking up jobs typically filled by backpackers

With unemployment in Australia expected to reach 10 per cent, the inquiry will look at the possibility of out-of-work Australians taking up jobs typically filled by working holiday-markers. 

New South Wales Liberal MP Julian Leeser, who will chair the inquiry, said there were about 50,000 fewer backpackers in Australia because of the pandemic.

“Once borders reopen they will be key to filling some roles where Australian workers are usually not available, particularly in regional areas,” Mr Leeser said.

He said the inquiry would also look “to what extent, with the prospect of so many unemployed Australians around, can those unemployed Australians fill the gap that would otherwise be filled by working holiday-makers”. 

Regional migration inquiry suspended

A separate parliamentary inquiry into migration in regional Australia, by the committee chaired by Mr Leeser, recently reported back without any recommendations, despite receiving more than 130 submissions and holding 11 public hearings.

“We suspended that inquiry because of the COVID-19 situation changing, and the fact we cut the migration program substantially and the situation in regional Australia had changed,” Mr Leeser said.

“We didn’t come up with recommendations because, truth be told, we hadn’t seen enough and had the chance to properly debate and test some of the assumptions.

“This is why we’ve been given this new inquiry … some of these issues were raised in the previous inquiry, but it is particularly important to people in rural and regional Australia who rely on the working holiday-maker workforce to help them keep their businesses running,” he said. 

Mr Leeser said he did not expect the inquiry would consider an agriculture-specific visa, something farm groups and some senior Nationals had previously championed.

‘Yet another inquiry’, says farmers federation

Victorian Farmers Federation spokeswoman Emma Germano said there was no point having another inquiry if governments continued to ignore the recommendations.

“I’d love to know why they are embarking on yet another inquiry,” Ms Germano said. 

“We hope it leads to meaningful recommendations that are actually adopted by the Government — unlike many of the inquiries into the ag workforce that have gone before.”

Ms Germano said her industry had become overly reliant on backpacker labour because there was a lack of suitable options to assist the sector. 

“Industry has long made recommendations to improve the worker holiday program to make it fit for purpose, and put protections in place for the worker and the employer,” she said. 

Working holiday-makers contribute around $3 billion to the Australian economy each year.

The inquiry into the working holiday-maker program, by the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, will receive submissions until July 24.

Source: ABC News

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Australians should take a holiday at home, but will they be spending $5,211 a trip?

Australians are being urged to help bring a much needed boost to the tourism industry by taking a holiday at home this year, but the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) warns it’s not a simple fix for our tourism businesses.
“While the Government is doing the right thing in urging Australians to spend their holiday savings at home this year, the idea that it can somehow replace the income the industry derives from international visitors is unrealistic,” ATEC Managing Director Peter Shelley says.
“Domestic holidays can and will help many Australian tourism businesses, particularly those set up specifically for local visitors, but for those who have strongly invested in the inbound market or who have a business set up purely to service the international visitors, domestic travellers just won’t generate the same income.
“Our research has shown that a third of tourism businesses will not benefit from the domestic tourism market with more than half of businesses expecting to not be viable within 6 months without international visitors.
“This is hardly surprising given the average spend of an international visitor is $5,211. It’s just not feasible to think most Australians would spend that amount of money on a domestic holiday in order to make up a $45bn shortfall.”
Mr Shelley said expectations on the travel budget capacity of our domestic market are unrealistic given diminished consumer confidence, perceived economic insecurity and disrupted leave entitlements experienced by many Australians this year. 
“We have already seen some tourism products adjusting their pricing to encourage locals to get involved, but this price reduction is often being massively and unsustainably subsidised and not delivering any real profits to the business.
“Many other tourism businesses are just not able to ‘pivot’ to the domestic market.  They are either exclusively focused on international visitors – like inbound tour operators who build itineraries for international travellers and support and service them during their stay, or tourism businesses which have invested in designing products to appeal to particular international markets.
“Our export tourism industry has been an enormous success and has delivered double digit growth for much of the last decade.  What’s important now is that we preserve the export tourism businesses which will form the foundation of our rebuilding so we can reignite that successful growth once international borders are open.
“In truth, there will be very few export tourism businesses who will benefit significantly from a domestic uptick and they definitely won’t be looking at the level of revenue our inbound sector has delivered in the past.
“While we encourage Australians to get out and see Australia, we need to recognise there are some valuable and otherwise viable businesses which will need Government support in order to make it through this long period of hibernation.
“ATEC is currently in discussions with the industry and Government agencies to negotiate an extension of industry support to ensure we protect this important part of our tourism eco structure and help build a plan to successfully drag our tourism industry out of this huge dark hole.”

ED: What about the average spend of a working holiday visa maker?

Source: ATEC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

Concerns fruit picker in Bundaberg with coronavirus knew he was at risk before travelling

Queensland’s top health official says she is concerned the state’s latest confirmed coronavirus case knew he may have been in contact with an infected person before travelling from interstate to pick strawberries.

Key points:

  • The man may have known he spent time with a confirmed case in Melbourne
  • Queensland’s Chief Health Officer says he shouldn’t have travelled if he was aware of the infection
  • Tourism operators don’t expect the case will deter people visiting the region

The Department of Health confirmed a 24-year-old Victorian man tested positive to COVID-19 after travelling to Bundaberg from Melbourne via Brisbane.

The man had stayed with friends in Brisbane and was living and working with other strawberry pickers at SSS Strawberries prior to his diagnosis, prompting a broad public health alert.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said it was still not certain whether the man was aware he had been in contact with another confirmed case in Victoria.

“I am a bit concerned that he knew he was possibly in contact with a known case in Melbourne — we are still not sure,” Dr Young said.

“If he did know, he really should not have come to Queensland.”

Queensland Health said 174 tests of close contacts from the weekend had returned negative results.

Direct travel priority for backpackers

The man entered Queensland under exemptions for essential workers, but Dr Young said the restrictions were working and the farm’s owners had done everything right.

“We are looking at the exemption process, because seasonal workers should travel direct from one place to another. They’re not supposed to stop,” she said.

“We know the incubation period is 14 days, and if you tested people on entry to Queensland you would know at that point they are negative, but they could cause a lot of transmission.

“It’s the 24 hours before you get symptoms that you are most contagious, and that might be why we are not seeing large numbers of cases from this particular gentleman who came to Bundaberg because he was in Melbourne at that time.”

Queensland's Chief Health officer Dr Jeannette Young speaks at a press conference at Parliament House in Brisbane
Jeannette Young says the system has worked well despite the latest case.(AAP: Darren England)

Tourism industry forging ahead

Bundaberg Tourism chief executive Katherine Reid said operators were moving ahead with reopening and did not expect the case to have a significant impact on the number of tourists visiting the region.

“We’re confident that health workers got onto it quickly, there’s contact tracing happening and there have been no further cases,” she said.

“We’re moving forward with our messaging that the Bundaberg tourism and hospitality industry are good to go with COVID-safe practices in place and they’re ready to welcome people back.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow

COVID-19 quickens push for local workers at country’s largest blueberry co-op

Australia’s largest grower-owned blueberry cooperative has upped its determination to employ local workers, using labour-hire firms and moving away from using backpackers as COVID-19 forces the sector to rethink safety.

Key points:

  • Changing work conditions due to social distancing is likely to push up the price of blueberries
  • Finding pickers made more difficult by COVID-19 guidelines surrounding backpackers
  • Increased push for local workers at the country’s largest blueberry co-op

The move was prompted by the industry’s representative body, the Australian Blueberry Growers Association (ABGA).

Government guidelines require visa holders leaving a metropolitan area to have filled out a disclosure form.

“We back that up with very clear recommendations to our members that they have worker disclosure forms and run through a daily checklist,” ABGA Chief Executive, Rachel Mackenzie, said.

Rachel Mackenzie holding up a small tub of blueberries.
Executive Director of Berries Australia, Rachel Mackenzie, worked closely with blueberry growers as the harvest kicks in(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

“They need to know who their workers are, where they are staying and who they are interacting with.

“We are also really advocating to our growers put their job advertisements on the National Harvest Labour Information Service rather than just have workers turning up.”

Moving from backpackers to local hire

The workforce at the plant increases at harvest time to process the fruit.

For the first time OzGroup, in concert with a labour-hire firm, has implemented a strategy to source as many local employees as possible and operate shifts differently.

CEO Adam Bianchi believed it would go a long way to mitigate potential COVID-19 problems, although he conceded it would result in added costs.

“This year we are looking at doing a bit more in terms of segregating to a day and a night shift, so we will have four separate crews,” Mr Bianchi said.

“We think it’s a necessary cost.”

OzGroup hoped a greater emphasis on local employees would develop their skills, which could then be utilised over the years instead of having to spend time training backpackers.

Harvested blueberries
Harvested blueberries could be a bit more expensive for consumers as measures to ensure COVID-19 guidelines are adhered are likely to increase processing costs(ABC Rural: Kim Honan)

Harvest puts pressure on supply of workers

Many of the farms are family owned and reliant on backpackers to complement the handful of fulltime workers.

At Corindi, north of Coffs Harbour, Harvey Singh‘s picking is starting later than last year which he puts down to drought.

With 22,000 blueberry plants to be harvested, the job of finding pickers was made harder because travellers had to isolate for 14 days after coming into the area.

Harvey Singh said he asked all his workers where they have come from.

“Most of them have been saying they have been in the region for a couple of weeks now,” he said.

Fellow grower, Aman Lehl, at Corindi Beach, said he “fully supports” the COVID-19 regulations as a “public safety health initiative” which led to changes.

Raspberries are nearing the end of harvest but are not as hardy as blueberries and much of the packing is done in the paddocks.

“We have already had to make changes with social distancing with our packing stations … but so far it has been manageable,” Mr Lehl said.

Rows of plants in fields under nets on a blueberry farm.
Demand for pickers on mid-north coast blueberry farms increases as the harvest kicks in.(Supplied: Phillip Wilk)

Despite the effort to employ locals he is doubtful that many locals will sign up.

“They have been with us for years.”

While growers, processors and industry work to ensure COVID-19 guidelines are adhered to, the ABGA has also tried to reassure the community that all possible steps have been taken.

The ABGA admitted the challenge also is to try and ensure workers behave when not on-farm, so they are meeting councils to talk about accommodation and clear messages for backpackers.

Adventure tourism operators shutting down amid insurance refusals

Unable to access insurance, several long-running adventure tourism businesses have shut up shop and fear their sector is in jeopardy.

Key points:

  • Adventure tourism operations are shutting down after insurers refuse to provide public liability insurance
  • Brokers and industry representatives say such coverage is becoming “financially unviable” for insurers around the world
  • The Insurance Council says “specialist brokers” overseas may be able to help, but operators are calling for government assistance

John Allport has run Tasmania’s Huon River Jet Boats for 30 years, but says he can no longer operate after his insurance policy came up for renewal.

Despite contacting 20 underwriters, Mr Allport said his broker had failed to find one willing to provide public liability insurance.

“This could kill adventure tourism,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Kalbarri Quadbike Safaris has operated for 11 years in Western Australia’s Midwest, but has now closed after its broker was unable to secure insurance.

Owner Martin Rodger predicted more tourism operators would be forced to close their doors as they came to renew their policies.

“We can’t operate this business, we can’t sell this business,” he said. “We can’t do anything with this business.”

Two quad bikes and their riders parked on a tranquil stretch of river.
Kalbarri Quadbike Safari operators Martin Rodger and Ellen Nightingale have shut the business down.(ABC Midwest And Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

Fellow Kalbarri quad bike tour operator Jenny McClintock, from Wagoe Beach Quad Bike Tours, is also facing closure when her policy comes up for renewal in August.

“If we can’t get public liability, adventure tourism will die within months,” Mrs McClintock said.

It’s the same story for Peter Kalbfell, who owns a jet boating company in the south-west holiday town of Dunsborough.

“If we can’t source public liability insurance we can not operate in the marine park and we’ll have to shut down,” Mr Kalbfell said. “It feels terrible.

“The State Government is trying to promote [tourism campaign] ‘Adventure Awaits’ — well, there won’t be any adventure left if the State or Federal Governments don’t step in and assist.”

Two whales along side a jet boat in greeny-blue waters.
Jet Adventures in Dunsborough is turning away customers because it can’t operate without public liability insurance.(Supplied: Jet Adventures)

Providers ‘toughening up’

“It’s been a heavy couple of years for Lloyd’s of London,” he said.

“They’ve been really rescaling their books, especially in in regards to liability risks. “They’re not charities, they are there to make a profit and statistically this is how they do it.

“They can wear losses for a couple of years but after a while they have to toughen up and that’s what we’re seeing.”

William Legge, the general manager of peak body Underwriting Agencies Council, said in many instances it was no longer financially viable to provide public liability cover.

Campbell Fuller, the Insurance Council of Australia‘s head of communication, said there was a global tightening of the market for such insurance types, although he said cover might be available from “specialist brokers” overseas.

Two quad bikes driving along a vast stretch of empty beach.
After 13 years of operation, Kalbarri Wagoe Beach Quad Bike Tours might be forced to close when its insurance comes up for renewal.(ABC Midwest And Wheatbelt: Samille Mitchell)

Calls for help

The tour operators and WA Nationals Tourism Spokesman Vince Catania MLA warned that the closure of adventure tourism operations would have a big impact on tourism and tourist towns.

“If you can’t get insurance you can’t operate,” Mr Catania said.

“If you can’t operate there is no tourism product that we can sell to those visitors who want to come up and jump on a quad bike, who want to get on a boat, who want to be able to do adventure tours, whether it’s on the coast or whether it’s inland.”

Operators are now calling on state and Federal governments to step in and underwrite their businesses in a similar manner to New Zealand, which has a universal system of no-fault risk underwritten by the Government.

Under the system employers, businesses and sports clubs pay levies to the Accident Compensation Corporation, calculated to reflect the risk of an activity.

“We need some help and it’s pretty urgent,” Mrs McClintock said. “Because the longer we go on, more businesses will close down and they won’t come back.”

‘Worldwide phenomenon’

WA Tourism Minister Paul Papalia has asked the small business commissioner to provide advice about how the Government might be able to help.

“I would like to try and see what we can do to ensure people can get insurance,” he said. “But it’s not normally a Government activity.”

A close up photo of a man wearing a suit.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia.(ABC News: Eliza Laschon)

Federal Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said treasury was “monitoring the current insurance market situation”.

“While coverage is still readily available in Australia, public liability insurance market is tightening as fewer insurers are underwriting this product and have placed a greater focus on owners’ risk management and maintenance,” he said.

“Treasury advice indicates insurance markets are becoming being more selective in the risks they will underwrite, and are imposing stricter terms and conditions on policyholders.

“This is a worldwide phenomenon and is a reflection of the insurer and underwriter response to the poor financial performance of this type of insurance in recent years.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow