Katherine's tourism operators are cautiously optimistic about the upcoming dry season, despite JobKeeper's official finish last weekend leaving up to 50 local businesses in the lurch.
This optimism comes as the Katherine Visitor Information Centre saw a record number of bookings via the NT Tourism Vouchers.
COVID-19 lockdowns and border restrictions robbed Katherine of its regular grey nomad boom in 2020, with many local tourism operators staying afloat thanks to the JobKeeper wage subsidy.
However, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed last Sunday the program has officially finished, potentially leaving up to to 150,000 Australians without a job.
Knotts Crossing Resort general manager Joanna Pace said JobKeeper had helped her business get through a challenging 2020, with 12 of their 18 staff being put on the program.
However, she said the NT's relative freedom from the pandemic meant the resort's earnings recovered, and by November they were no longer eligible for JobKeeper.
Ms Pace is now optimistic the upcoming dry season will be a return to business as usual for tourism in the Katherine region.
She said the resort is booked out for the Easter break, and forward bookings have her feeling positive about the future.
"This Easter weekend is absolutely chocker block... we're at 100 per cent capacity," she said.
Ms Pace said contractors who need accommodation while working on the RAAF Base Tindal expansion, and the NT Government's Tourism Vouchers had both provided enough business to get the resort through 2020 unscathed.
"There's been a steady stream to Katherine... the vouchers have brought so much movement to the region... and Tindal was the icing on the cake."
50 local businesses still wanted JobKeeper before it ended
The Katherine Visitor Information Centre is operated by the Katherine Town Council, in a statement KTC said local tourism was "greatly affected" last year due to the pandemic and border closures.
Up to 50 local businesses were still applying for JobKeeper when the program finished, according to Treasury's latest data.
Council said "the end of Jobkeeper will have an impact on businesses", however the towns reliance on Jobkeeper seems to have gradually decreased since its introduction in March 2020.
Treasury's figures show the number of businesses in Katherine who were applicants for JobKeeper peaked last year in May at 261, and has been on a steady decline ever since.
KTC said the data does not show what industries these businesses are in, but tourism and hospitality have been known to struggle throughout the pandemic.
"While data in relation to which industries this has mostly affected is been hard to come by, we know that our tourism and hospitality industries have been greatly affected by COVID-19."
The council backed up the success of the Tourism Vouchers, and said the local visitor centre received a record number of bookings because of the program.
KTC said the previous record for total booking values at the visitor centre was set in 2018/19, with $1.3 million in bookings received.
As of Monday March 29, the Katherine Visitor Information Centre has already received over $2.1 million in total booking value for 2020/21.
The council said the local tourism industry is hopeful for a stronger year in 2021.
"Accommodation providers within town, particularly caravan parks are reporting positive bookings numbers for the upcoming season...we are expecting a great tourist season for 2021."
Chamber of Commerce Katherine regional manager Colin Abbott said the experience at Knotts Crossing Resort is not unique, as many businesses in Katherine feel prepared for life after JobKeeper.
He said the Chamber of Commerce surveyed a group of 13 Katherine businesses across multiple industries, and the general response was local businesses in the community can survive the end of JobKeeper.
However, Mr Abbott said some hospitality and tourism operators may still feel the pinch, as the pandemic continues throughout 2021.
Cheap airfares took off on Thursday
On Thursday, the Federal Government launched its airfare subsidy program, in an effort to get Australians exploring their own back yard.
The government said it will pay for 800,000 half priced plane tickets to 15 regions around the country including Darwin and Alice Springs.
The government said the program will support jobs and businesses in the aviation and tourism industries, however groups like the Transport Workers Union oppose the program, and claim JobKeeper should have remained in place.
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