State border closures contributed to a 59 per cent drop in overnight visitors to Canberra in August, as concerns remained about the future of Australia's tourism sector.
Domestic visitor numbers to the ACT fell from 243,000 in August 2019 to 101,000 in August 2020, new figures from Tourism Research Australia show.
Nights spent in the capital fell by 65 per cent to 187,000 while visitor spending halved to $72 million.
Only Victoria had a larger percentage drop than the ACT in terms of overnight visitors, falling from 2.1 million last August to just 184,000 this August. In NSW, visitor numbers went from 2.9 million to 1.8 million.
Across the nation, domestic tourism spend fell $3.3 billion in August.
The slump came as states and territories pulled up the drawbridges amid rising coronavirus cases across the country.
Queensland closed its borders to the ACT and NSW on August 4, while a group of Canberrans travelling from Victoria to Canberra became stranded at the Victorian and NSW border on August 7, after the NSW government tightened its border restrictions. Victoria went into stage four lockdown on August 2.
It came amid an already difficult year for many tourism operators.
More than 80,000 international visitors cancelled or postponed activities due to the Black Summer bushfires.
Around 81,000 changed their trip itinerary, accommodation or flights, or shortened their trip due to the fires.
A survey from Tourism Australia showed at the peak of the fires, more than half of respondents believed a quarter of Australia was on fire, when the figure was closer to 2 per cent.
The international borders shut in March due to the pandemic.
Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair David Marshall said the coming period would be critical for the tourism sector.
While there was an influx of visitors over the recent school holidays, domestic visitors did not spend as much as international tourists which would likely mean some operators would be forced to close.
"It's going to take the tourism industry a long time to recover from COVID-19," Dr Marshall said.
"Certainly a lot of industry is saying if they don't get support or an influx of visitors over Christma time some of them will close their doors.
"The dilemma is many of us have depleted out cash reserves and have got people on JobKeeper but when that finishes at the end of March there's a lot of concern that people won't be able to continue.
"Tourism needs as much help as the government can possibly give in any shape or form."
Labor's tourism spokesman Don Farrell said without a targeted support package, more tourism businesses would be forced to close.
"Pre-COVID, tourism employed over 1 million Australians and contributed some $100 billion to our GDP. But this year has been devastating for this dynamic and self-sufficient industry, which for years has quietly grown from strength to strength," Senator Farrell said.
"Tourism businesses were forced to shed 136,500 jobs in the year to June 2020 alone, despite JobKeeper.
"It is not good enough for the government to leave tourism to fend for itself, along with the people whose livelihoods depend on it."
However, the impact had not been as devastating in some areas.
Queensland's domestic tourism figures dipped from 1.9 million last August to 1.7 million this August. In Tasmania, there was just a 1 per cent change in their visitor numbers, falling from 174,000 in August 2019 to 173,000 in August 2020.