Regional travel delay adds to 'uncertainty', Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association CEO says

READY AND WAITING: A visitor boom is expected in the Hunter Valley when Greater Sydney residents are permitted to travel to the region again.
READY AND WAITING: A visitor boom is expected in the Hunter Valley when Greater Sydney residents are permitted to travel to the region again.

Hunter Valley tourism businesses preparing for an influx of visitors from Greater Sydney when New South Wales is 80 per cent fully-vaccinated will now have to wait until November 1.

The state is expected to reach the milestone this weekend, but Deputy Premier Paul Toole announced on Friday that Greater Sydney residents would not be permitted to travel to regional areas for another two weeks to give regional communities the chance to boost their vaccination rates.

It is the second time the resumption date for regional travel has been changed, after originally being included in the first phase of the government's 'roadmap to freedom', then moved to phase two a couple of weeks later.

Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association CEO Amy Cooper said the delay has created "ongoing uncertainty" for regional wine and tourism operators.

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"The Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association acknowledges the action taken to date by NSW Government in ensuring regional communities are safe and have access to vaccines," Ms Cooper said.

"(Friday's) announcement comes, however, as a further major blow to our industry.

"Businesses have been working hard towards reopening; recruiting and training staff, purchasing stock and looking forward to welcoming visitors.

"Staff vaccination rates sit at 98 per cent across our industry. Operators have worked tirelessly to ensure strong COVID compliance and are ready with updated COVID safety plans and vaccination compliance measures for guests in place."

Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association CEO, Amy Cooper

Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association CEO, Amy Cooper

Ms Cooper said about three-quarters of Hunter Valley wine and tourism businesses have been forced to stand down over 50 per cent of their staff since COVID restrictions kicked in late June.

"Business confidence has been impacted with 60 per cent of local operators reporting a lack of confidence in ongoing business viability," she said.

"It is critical to get business back open as soon as possible."

Ms Cooper said any ongoing delay to restarting regional travel has "significant economic impact" on the local economy, with the Hunter Valley wine and tourism industry valued at $631 million per annum and employing thousands of local people.

"Given the ongoing hardship to businesses, Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association are calling for strong business support measures from NSW Government," she said.

Mr Toole said it was a "tough decision" to delay travel between regional NSW and Greater Sydney, and that the NSW Government will be extending the JobSaver program for regional businesses.

He said it's expected more than 77 per cent of regional LGAs will be fully-vaccinated by November 1.

"Everyone has done a brilliant job of getting vaccinated and rates are rising fast; however we have looked at the health modelling and listened to feedback from regional communities who want more time to get their double dose vaccination rates up as high as possible before they welcome back visitors," Mr Toole said.

"We know businesses in regional NSW were getting ready to welcome people back, but it's important we get this right so that we can have greater confidence the vaccines will do their job - and that when we re-open travel to the regions, they can remain open and that businesses have continued support in the meantime. We thank people for their patience."

As of this week, Cessnock's vaccination rates sat at 89.1 per cent single-dosed and 58.4 per cent fully-vaccinated, with Singleton at 92.9 and 60.7 per cent, and Muswellbrook at 88.1 and 56.5 per cent.