The most common question I am asked is without doubt, how has the visitor economy been impacted by COVID-19?
Easy answer, decimated.
Today's announcement that cafés, bars, restaurants and pubs can welcome up to 50 guests in a socially responsible manner could not have been more timely or welcomed by an industry that has been brought its knees.
Visitors travel for a variety of reasons but the most important reason is to enjoy unique experiences, generating life long memories.
The South Coast is blessed with an incredible range of product and experiences which transition the further you go south.
The small bar and amazing restaurant scene in Wollongong transcends into the wonderful outdoor cafés in Kiama and further south to the wineries and oyster fields of the Shoalhaven.
Adventure lovers love skydiving onto the beach at Stuart Park, vision of which regularly goes around the world. What an incredible boost for industry it will be when that first skydiver lands (hopefully) in the not too distant future.
Shellharbour Marina, 20 years in the planning is a fantastic example of built infrastructure which will generate demand from travellers and Jervis Bay has become well known for nature tourism, particularly whale and dolphin watching.
Tourism Australia were last week quoted as saying one in thirteen jobs in the country relied on tourism and 95 per cent of tourism businesses were mum and dad investors who had put their hard earned into businesses they love. Sadly, they cannot currently turn on a cash register.
So many of these unique experiences we are so proud of, are mum and dad investors and the longer the cash registers are turned off, the reality is the less chance they are going to get turned back on.
Times are tough and they are not going to get much better anytime soon unless restrictions continue to be lifted and the community continues to respect the virus and the hygiene and social distancing which have become part of our daily lives.
The retail industry has done a great job adapting to changing the way in which they operate and I have no doubt that given the chance, tourism and hospitality businesses will do equally as well.
After all, hospitality and tourism businesses are mum and dad investors whose livelihoods depend on it.
The challenge now becomes how do we support and nurture small business as they gradually reopen in the post COVID-19 world?
Obviously getting the tills turned back on and spending money in local small business is critical to their long term success. We need to be patient and understand that things aren't going to return to what we knew as normal on June 1. Its not easy to re-open a business and its especially hard when in the midst of a pandemic and policy and regulations are changing daily.
We need to be patient and support our small business operators, they are doing their absolute best in trying circumstances. There may be times when we cant get a seat or an item isn't available, given what we have all just been through, we can deal with that and don't need to become upset or confrontational.
Some businesses might not re-open just yet but they still need our support. Mental health is one of the most understated challenges of this pandemic and I have found over the past three months that many people in small business just want a friendly ear and to be told its going to be ok.
Many have their life savings invested in businesses that can't operate and mentally I cant begin to understand what that must feel like.
Yesterday's announcement gives them hope that better days are coming, and thankfully, they are coming far quicker than we ever expected.
Enjoy our new freedoms, we look forward to welcoming back visitors but lets do it with the respect that COVID-19 deserves.
Mark Sleigh is the general manager of Destination Wollongong