Tourists alone won’t solve $160 million economic loss threatening future of Hunter Valley

The excitement of welcoming tourists back to the Hunter Valley is being over shadowed by the enormity of the economic cost of the Covid-19 shutdown. An uncertain future still looms large for many wine and tourism businesses.

Hunter Valley Wine Tourism Association is now calling on government for critical funding investment now and has identified a  number key of ways that government can be active in assisting recovery efforts.

CEO of the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association (HVWTA) Army Cooper told The Hunter River Times that the local industry had suffered an $85million loss as a result of Covid-19 between March and May.

“Every business in the Hunter Valley’s wine and tourism industry have reported a significant reduction in revenue, with close to half of all businesses suffering a complete loss of income since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced in mid March,” Ms Cooper said.

Chris Tyrrell (HVWTA Board Director), General, the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK CVO MC, BizRebuild Chairman, Fay McGuigan (Hunter Valley Legend), Brian McGuigan AM (HVWTA Vice President) and Stewart Ewan (HVWTA Board Director).

Some 80per cent of businesses had to close and those that did stay open, experienced an overall 95 per cent reduction in business activity.

The tourism sector of accommodation, tour operators, activities and attractions, restaurants, cafes and bars were hardest hit by the pandemic.

While boost in visitor numbers have been welcomed since lock down laws were eased from the June long, Ms Cooper said the recovery was far from over.

HVWTA president Christina Tulloch outlined the dim picture.

“Covid-19 decimated our economy, which was already devastated by drought and the summer bushfires.

“With an annual wine tourism economy valued at $557 million per annum, the running economic loss for the Hunter Valley is conservatively calculated at a staggering $160 million since the bushfires started in our region in November 2019.

“Our industry requires urgent protection and immediate assistance,” Ms Tulloch said.

Hunter Valley Wine Country is the most visited wine destination in Australia, making it the nation’s most important wine tourism asset.

At 192 years old, it is Australia’s oldest wine region. The Hunter Valley is home to many of our most iconic wine brands.

There are 2,800 people regularly employed in Wine Country, representing $104 million in wages annually.

Even with the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper support payment saving hundreds of jobs across the region, three out of four businesses have still had to decrease their staffing levels, with over half of all Hunter Valley businesses having reduced their teams by more than half.

The majority of Wine Country industry is small businesses, from owner operator run to employing up to 25 staff.

Ms Cooper said it would take time and significant support for these small businesses to get back on their feet, particularly, as businesses are collectively facing a projected loss of up to $298 million over a 12 month period.

“A number of businesses have already made the incredibly difficult decision to permanently close. It’s a final heartbreaking call for people to let go of their livelihood, that they’ve invested years, if not decades in.

“So it is deeply concerning that 3 out of 4 businesses are reporting that they are uncertain and not confident in their viability over the next 12 months.

“The future of our wine tourism industry is under threat,” says Ms Cooper

The HVWTA is a member based not-for-profit organisation, responsible for the sustainability of the wine tourism industry and destination marketing to attract visitors to the Hunter Valley. The history of the Association dates back over 173 years. However, the HVWTA currently receives no local, state or federal funding.

“The Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association is wholly a membership-funded organisation. Our businesses are just hanging on.

“They need the support of their industry Association now more than ever.”

*This story was published on Friday, June 19 2020.