Hunter wine and tourism industry needs 'urgent assistance' after $160m loss

TOUGH TIMES: Hunter Valley wine and tourism has suffered massively over the past 12 months.
TOUGH TIMES: Hunter Valley wine and tourism has suffered massively over the past 12 months.

An $85 million loss since March, and $160 million loss over the last six months.

That's the tragic bottom line to the Hunter wine industry economy, according to figures released by the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association.

The projected loss over 12 months is a staggering $298 million.

With cellar doors now finally open again and a bumper crowd expected this long weekend - it comes on the end of a long lockdown - the figures illustrate just how badly the region has been hit by bushfires, drought and COVID-19.

Amy Cooper, CEO of the Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association (HVWTA) reports that "100 per cent 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".

Overall there has been a 95 per cent reduction in business activity, with the tourism sector - accommodation, tour operators, activities and attractions, restaurants, cafes and bars - hardest hit.

The report shows that 80 per cent of businesses have had to close, with COVID-19 restrictions forcing either full or partial closures.

Christina Tulloch, President of the HVWTA, said the economy had been "decimated" and the industry required urgent assistance.

"COVID-19 decimated our economy, which was already devastated by drought and the summer bushfires," she said.

"With an annual wine tourism economy valued at $557 million, the running economic loss for the Hunter Valley is conservatively calculated at a staggering $160 million since the bushfires started in November 2019. Our industry requires urgent protection and immediate assistance."

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 and home to some iconic brands, with nearly 30000 people employed in Wine Country.

"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 per cent or more," Ms Cooper said.

"Our industry needs certainty from Government about support beyond September."

This story Wine region tells of six months of economic devastation first appeared on The Maitland Mercury.