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.

Amy Cooper, CEO of the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association (HVWTA) reports that “figures released by the HVWTA reveal that COVID-19 has caused an $85 million loss to the Hunter Valley economy from March to May 2020. 100% of businesses 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.”

80% of businesses have had to close, with COVID-19 restrictions forcing either full or partial closures. Businesses in the Hunter Valley have experienced an overall 95% reduction in business activity, with the tourism sector – accommodation, tour operators, activities & attractions, restaurants, cafes & bars – hardest hit by this pandemic.

“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,” says Christina Tulloch, President of the HVWTA.

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. 2,800 people are 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 our 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 50% or more. Our industry needs certainty from Government about support beyond September” says Ms Cooper.

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

“We were already having a tough time with drought and then bushfires in the Valley, COVID-19 has taken a huge personal toll on our people. We are normally a very connected community. The added burden of social isolation is challenging when people are under so much stress and pressure. Sadly, 1 in 5 people have shared with us that they have experienced a decline in their mental health and wellbeing. The HVWTA wants to be here to support our people in their greatest time of need” says Ms Tulloch.

The HVWTA is a member based not-for-profit, 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. So the HVWTA is calling on government for critical funding investment. Our industry has identified a number key of ways that government can be active in assisting recovery efforts. We want government to work with the HVWTA to ensure the Hunter Valley has a strong, viable and vibrant wine tourism industry into the future” says Ms Tulloch.

Source: Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association