The South Australian Government has welcomed the boom in hotel occupancy rates after rolling out its travel voucher scheme — but the Opposition says it wants the policy expanded to include tour operators and other hard-hit tourism ventures.

Key points:

  • Hotel occupancy rates beat or match those for December 2019
  • But Labor says the travel voucher scheme must be broadened
  • Tour operators want to be included in the scheme

Labor leader Peter Malinauskas said the government scheme was “good policy” but only about 24 per cent of the second round of vouchers had been cashed in so far.

The scheme offers discounts of $50 for regional accommodation businesses and $100 for city-based providers for bookings up until March 31.

“The tourism voucher scheme is wholeheartedly a good policy — it is orientated towards stimulating our economy,” Mr Malinauskas said.

But he said the Government’s current scheme was “too restricted” as it only applied to accommodation provides under strict circumstances.

“We know that 75,000 vouchers were taken up by South Australians.

“But it appears as though less than 30 per cent of those have actually been utilised, which means money is still sitting in government coffers rather than in our economy.”

He called on the scheme to be expanded to so “it doesn’t just apply to accommodation providers but also provides critical assistance to everybody else in the tourism sector”.

‘Business down 70 per cent’

Taste The Barossa owner Dallas Coull said the vouchers were needed to stimulate a “dead economy in our sector” but “implored” the Government to include tour operators.

“The last few months have been a real rollercoaster — we saw the numbers come up during the quieter months of COVID, then we had the lockdown, which crippled us,” he said.

“Currently, we’re about 70 per cent down on our day tours and we’re 100 per cent down on our interstate stuff between Adelaide and Melbourne.

“It’s pretty tough at the moment.”

Premier Steven Marshall says occupancy rates in Adelaide and regional South Australia are higher now than before the coronavirus pandemic.(ABC News: Michael Clements)

Mr Marshall said South Australia’s tourism sector was having a “summer to remember” with some accommodation providers in the city and regional SA breaking pre-coronavirus occupancy rates following the second round of vouchers.

Figures provided by STR Global for December 2020 showed occupancy in regional South Australia reached 60 per cent — the highest December on record.

They also showed that room nights in regions were the highest on record for December, reaching 114,000 — up 8 per cent on the previous year.

In Adelaide, the figures revealed that hotel occupancy on New Year’s Eve reached 82 per cent — the highest since the pandemic began.

Murphy’s Haystacks near Port Lincoln in South Australia.(ABC Open contributor Marian Martin)

Premier Steven Marshall said the latest data proved the Government’s support of the sector was working.

Since the second round of vouchers was launched on January 5, the Government says there has been almost triple the number of new bookings received by hotels compared to the previous week.

Data for January 8 this year showed hotel occupancy at 75 per cent, up from 73 per cent for the same time last year.

Tourism operators have been ‘resilient’

South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive Rodney Harrex said tourism operators were “incredibly resilient having faced bushfires, drought and a global pandemic”.

“Thank you to all South Australians out there who are doing their bit for our visitor economy and holidaying at home — it means so much to our operators and to the lifeblood of our communities.”

Mr Harrex said more than 18,000 bookings had been made with the vouchers and nearly 5,000 rooms already checked in to their stay.

“The response to the vouchers has been overwhelming with forward bookings strong right through to the end of March,” he said.

South Australians with vouchers yet to book their accommodation have until January 31 to use them.