A local tourism leader has issued a clarion call to Canberrans, urging to them support local businesses and attractions as the coronavirus pandemic threatens to devastate an otherwise booming sector.
Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair David Marshall made the plea as he revealed the temporary ban on school excursions had already cost the territory $50 million.
Mr Marshall said while the territory and federal governments needed to lead the way in supporting businesses through the economic downturn, individuals had a vital role to play.
But Australian Medical Association ACT branch president Antonio Di Dio has warned that Canberrans could cause more economic harm than good by attending venues and flouting strict "social distancing" measures.
The tourism and hospitality sectors will be among the sector's hardest hit by the measures designed to slow the spread of COVID-19, which include a ban on indoor gatherings of 100 or more people.
Restaurants, bars, pubs and other venues will also be forced to comply with an indoor limit of one person for every four square metres.
The international tourism market has effectively shut down after the federal government announced Australia's borders would be closed to tourists from Friday.
Mr Marshall said restaurants, bars and clubs were already starting to suffer, making it all the more important for locals to support them.
"What I want to say to Canberrans is get out and support your city, get out an take advantage of what this city has to offer," Mr Marshall said.
"No one is in a holiday mood right now, but they certainly can be supporting local industry. Don't think there is a need for everyone to stay at home."
Following on from Prime Minister Scott Morrison's rebuke of people "panic buying" at supermarkets, Mr Marshall delivered his own message to those partaking in the practice.
"Stop panic buying at Costco and start putting money in the hands of Canberrans," he said.
Mr Marshall said the region's tourism leaders would meet on Tuesday to brainstorm ways to limit the damage to the sector, which was now worth $2.5 billion a year.
He said the sector, which suffered an estimated economic hit of $10 million during Canberra's horror summer of smoke and fire, was starting to experience casualties.
Canberra welcomes 160,000 school students each year for excursions, injecting an estimated $160 million into the local economy. But that market had been effectively wiped out after interstate excursions were temporarily banned as part of measures imposed on schools to slow the spread of the virus.
Mr Marshall said the financial hit from cancelled or deferred bookings had already reached $50 million, with at least two accommodation providers facing imminent closure. One provider had already lost $1 million in cancelled bookings, he said.
He said hotel bookings had "plummeted" 50-70 per cent, while the mass cancellations of events such as weddings was already having flow-affects for venues and catering companies.
"I think this industry is in very, very serious trouble," said.
"Ultimately, there is a limit to how many people the government can support. There is going to be a lot of people that suffer, and we can see business closing and never reopening.
"It is horrendous. I can't compare it to anything."
Dr Di Dio expressed sympathy for businesses which experienced a decline in trade, or were forced to shut, due to the "social distancing" measures.
But Dr Di Dio said the economic consequences for the sector would be far greater if the spread of the virus wasn't curtailed.
"I feel very, very deeply for the industry. We need to support them, but we need to support society as a whole. And preventing the spread of this bug is the best thing that we can do for them."
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