Local tour operators have spoken publicly about the impacts of the pandemic on their businesses, including how plunging patronage has impacted their ability to employ casual staff.
The operators were addressing Byron Council last week as it considered their request for rent reductions and licence extensions to help them survive.
Speaking on behalf of six local surf schools, Trisha Shantz said that operators had been doing it tough, not just during the ongoing state-wide lockdown, but for much of the past year.
‘Basically for much of that period we’ve had zero business,’ Ms Shantz said.
Kurt Tutt from Go Sea Kayak Byron Bay said his business was going through ‘what could be the worst of the situation now’.
‘We had a good little boost when things reopened last July, but pretty much from the Avalon cluster we’ve been on a steady decline.
‘I had 32 to 33 casual staff. I don’t have any anymore.
‘It’s going to be years to build the business back up… we’re using all our resources just to survive. ‘
The operators were among a group of approximately eight coastal tourism businesses that came to Council seeking rent reductions of up to 100 per cent and six-year licence extensions.
As part of their applications, the operators asked for an extension of their sub-licences with the Council for up to six years.
But this request was summarily dismissed by the NSW Planning Department, which must approve any variation in sub-licences in coastal zones.
Instead, the department gave permission for a maximum 12-month licence extension.
Ms Shantz and Mr Tutt both stated that, while they were grateful for the year-long extension, it would almost certainly not be long enough for the operators to get back on track.
‘I would like it to be noted that 12 months isn’t going to help us greatly,’ Mr Tutt said.
‘We’re looking for at least two to three years as that’s what is required to help us to get out of this long term. We were able to get a 14-month extension in 2017, so it’s a bit confusing that we’re now being offered less than that in circumstances that are much worse’.
But with the planning department having made its decision, councillors were left with little choice but to limit the licence extension to 12 months.
Rent reductions negotiated
However, they did delegate authority to Council’s General Manager, Mark Arnold, to negotiate rent reductions with the operators over and above the 50 per cent reduction that has already been mandated by the State Government.