One of the longest established coach tour companies in NSW has pleaded with the Federal Government to extend its airline rescue package to other sectors or risk permanent damage to Australia’s fourth largest export.
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Managing director of Blue Mountains NSW-based tour company Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT), Jason Cronshaw, questioned why airlines received a wage subsidy beyond JobKeeper but other transport tour operators such as coach and dive companies did not.
``Why is the government pulling the rug from under the fourth largest export earner for Australia (tourism) at this stage?’’
Coach companies like Fantastic Aussie Tours were now unable to run vehicles because they had haemorrhaged staff and lost value and expertise from their teams.
FAT had operated the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus fleet of double-decker red buses around Katoomba and Leura since 1986 and conducted sightseeing tours and charters around Australia for two generations since 1974.
It was forced to close its Blue Mountains Explorer Bus sightseeing run for 27 days over December 2019 – January 2020 because of the bushfires and reported a 60 per cent drop in passengers between that December and February `20.
During the weekend of March 14-15, 2020, numbers plummeted another 50 per cent almost overnight because of coronavirus.
Four days later [on March 19], Explorer Bus services were slashed from 15 a day to seven, with 2.5 drivers a day to one.
Today, the distinctive double-decker fleet runs only on Saturdays and holidays, and Mr Cronshaw is considering parking it permanently if business does not improve after Easter.
``We've gone from 65,000 people a year on the red buses to half a dozen on a Saturday. We're only running it to keep a presence.''
Meanwhile parent company FAT suffered an 85 per cent drop in charter work and forward cancellations from schools and corporates and other group travel until October.
The average weekly driver roster of 350 hours had dropped to 78.
Mr Cronshaw said the deluge of damage to the coach industry had already been felt – he knew of one company which pre-Covid carried thousands of passengers to the Blue Mountains and was now in liquidation and trying to sell 23 coaches.
He and operations director Darrell Booth had already sold one of the company’s retro Ansett Clipper tour buses and two other vehicles, and had also put two double-decker Explorer Buses on the market.
Mr Booth worried that like the dive boat industry, ``it’s not only the millions of dollars worth of assets in vehicles, there’s the loss of people, skills and qualifications that once gone, takes enormous time and cost to rebuild in a business’’.
``This talent won’t be available at the drop of a hat.’’
Numerous bus and coach drivers had already left the tourism industry for more reliable work.
``They’d have rocks in their heads to come back to an industry at the whim of a political decision,’’ Mr Booth said.
FAT, which prided itself on its long-term experienced employees, was already seeing staff looking for options now JobKeeper was coming to an end.
The liquidation of coach fleets would see vehicle values plummet and devastating flow-on to other sectors such as manufacturing.
``These companies about to go broke will put unsustainable prices to the market and further effect sustainable business,’’ he said.