Tourism Minister Dan Tehan has urged governments to work together to provide certainty to the tourism sector, as operators along Australia's east coast face another lost summer due to coronavirus border closures.
Industry leaders fear the latest round of COVID-19 border closures will be the final straw for many businesses, who were hanging out for a good season after last year's virus lockdowns.
The exodus of Victorian tourists from the NSW South Coast on New Year's Eve came a year to the day since bushfires also forced thousands of travellers to flee.
"It's another summer lost," John Hart, chair of Australian Chamber Tourism, said.
"The knock to confidence will be really damaging this time."
Mr Hart said the decision to impose quarantine periods retrospectively on areas that had been previously fine to travel to would further erode consumer confidence.
"It just flies in the face of all the messaging about getting the country back to business," Mr Hart said.
"People are just not going to book travel if they're not sure what conditions they're going to face."
Coupled with the loss of the international tourism market, Mr Hart said the sector was facing a $90 billion hit this year.
Bega Chamber of Commerce president John Watkins said Victoria's rapid decision to shut its border to NSW had been devastating to the far South Coast.
"Just like 12 months ago [with the fires] we had a queue of cars nearly 40 kilometres long of people trying to get back into Victoria on New Year's Eve," Mr Watkins said.
"Accommodation places and food venues that had been booked solid had barely enough trade to bother opening with the amount of tourists that left.
"The day after Boxing Day, Tathra was heaving, with people everywhere. There was a 20-metre queue to get fish and chips for lunch but after Victoria closed the borders they all disappeared."
Mr Watkins said a significant number of businesses would not survive this latest blow.
"Tourism operators down here were haemorrhaging this time last year. This year there's no blood to pour out," Mr Watkins said.
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan urged leaders across Australia to band together to give businesses and consumers confidence.
"What will help support the tourism sector is all levels of government working together to provide national policy certainty," Mr Tehan said.
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But chief medical officer Paul Kelly said domestic border closures were a matter for each state and territory.
"I am very happy to see how the NT, Tasmania, and some of the other states are using their own version of the hot spot definition in relation to their border decisions, but the other states, they have to make the decisions as they see fit to protect their own populations," Professor Kelly said.
"We do need to start learning at some point to live with this virus, but the vaccine is coming and I think people are being very cautionary and precautionary today and in the coming months while we're waiting for that vaccine is the way to go."
However infectious disease expert, Australian National University professor Peter Collignon believed Australia had gone backwards with its response to outbreaks.
"Look at the ACT. When COVID was circulating from the Crossroads cluster it didn't close its borders yet now, when the risk is probably lower, somehow we have," Professor Collignon said.
"Look at what Victoria has done, it's closed the border completely to regional NSW when there's no transmission cases to NSW.
"You need to have restrictions in place that are based on risk and that are reasonable. The risk of someone in regional NSW having the virus would be less than one in a million.
"I think we're becoming more risk averse as this goes on."
Professor Collignon said questions had to be asked whether these kinds of restrictions were sustainable.
"My own view is we're going to have this problem for another one or two years," Professor Collignon said.
"Realistically we're not going to have the vast majority of adults vaccinated until September or October this year. There's no vaccine for children.
"People at the moment want zero risk, which I don't think is achievable in the medium to long term."
Mr Hart said the tourism sector would suffer if further border closures were announced "on a whim".
"The longer this goes on the more businesses that shut their doors," Mr Hart said.
"To be frank, we can't cope with that cost as a country. We can't cope with the unemployment it will create, we can't cope with the economic loss it will create.
"We need to get businesses back to business."
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