THE region’s financially ravaged hotel sector remains on a knife-edge as it awaits details if businesses can reopen their front bars, dining and gaming sections as the COVID-19-forced shutdown continues.
With the state recording 13 consecutive days of no new COVID-19 cases, the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) SA has called for a road map outlining when hotels can emerge from this “devastating” hibernation.
It has been six weeks since regional hotels suddenly shut their doors as part of sweeping mandated closures, throwing thousands of people out of work.
The association has also flagged regional hotels could be the first to reopen given Limestone Coast has recorded no fresh cases for more than a month.
The push comes as National Cabinet foreshadows the unveiling of plan lifting of some economic and social restrictions this Friday, which could include unlocking regional travel within South Australia.
AHA SA general manager Ian Horne said the hotel and hospitality sector needed clarity.
“What restrictions will be lifted are just speculation, they are yet to be seen. If I had a wish-date, I would like to see these businesses restart by late May,” Mr Horne said.
He said the Northern Territory had already started to reopen hotels with the sector moving to full operation early next month.
Mr Horne argued the industry needed at least two weeks’ notice before reopening given they would have to source kegs, re-stock food and switch on fridges.
“We need to get tens of thousands of people who work in the hotel industry back to work so they can pay their bills,” he said.
“These are uncharted waters. Never before have we seen every pub shut across the state, including during World War II and the Great Depression.”
But he warned the opening of hotels would not be a “free for all” and COVID-19 safe operating measures would be need to be implemented.
Regarding regionally based hotels, Mr Horne said they were among the hardest hit across the state given they often had less cash-flow.
He warned some venues may not have enough cash flow to reopen.
The industry leader said SA Premier Steven Marshall had flagged the possibility of opening regional travel within the state.
“This would be fantastic, but it would be pretty boring if nothing was open, such as pubs, clubs and hospitality venues,” Mr Horne said.
Mr Horne also encouraged people to download the COVIDsafe App, which was an alternative than having to give names and phone numbers to hotels/hospitality venues.
Mount Gambier Commercial Hotel manager Karen Gray said she hoped to learn details this week on the future of the sector.
“Fingers cross we will find out this week,” Ms Gray said.
The hotel manager backed calls for the industry to be given a timeframe when they could reopen.
“A two to four week notice period would be ideal. Realistically, we have got no kegs, nothing.”
Ms Gray said it was heartbreaking to lay off 25 staff, some of whom were now receiving JobKeeper and Jobseeker payments.
Ideally, she said she would like to see the industry opened without heavy restrictions.
Asked about COVID-19 health concerns, Ms Gray said she felt comfortable reopening if the state border remained restricted to east coast populations.
“I think we could open our borders to the Northern Territory and Western Australia. I would not want the Victorian border opened up, they have not got their COVID-19 numbers under control,” she said.
“I know it will not be the same, but I would like to see the 100 limit per room – that way we could go back to some normality.”
She said hotels were important for social connectivity given they were often a second home for some people.
“With hotels, we are also people’s family. We have a lot of people who just come in and sit and drink Coke all day,” Ms Gray said.
“They have been left with nothing. We have been messaging them to check they are okay given they are at home by themselves.”
But Ms Gray said there was some silver lining to the prolonged shutdown given the hotel had begun renovations as well as tweaking its menu.
“You always have to take some good out of the bad,” she said.