Local businesses limping in the wake of summer smoke

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FOLLOWING months of bushfire smoke, some businesses in the region are facing massive financial losses and Canberra Business Chamber acting CEO Graham Catt says it may be years before things turn to normal for them. 

Graham Catt… “We’re really only just starting to see the repercussions for a lot of businesses.” Photo: Danielle Nohra

Some businesses might even decide to close, he says. 

“We have received reports from some tourism and hospitality operators of losses in excess of $500,000 and downturns in visitor numbers to Canberra hotels and attractions of 30 to 50 per cent,” Graham says. 

The flow of events, such as smoke, hail and storms, has been unprecedented, according to Graham, which makes it even more difficult for those businesses trying to recover. 

“Businesses can usually think and plan after an event, but what’s been really different about this past summer is it’s not just one event, it’s rolling events,” he says. 

“No one’s actually ever experienced a summer like this before [and it] doesn’t stop the day there’s not a fire burning. 

“We had the worst air quality in the world over a couple of days. Recovery from that kind of coverage and image isn’t something that goes away.

“There were people who would have been looking at the images of the smoke and the fires and decided they were going to go and holiday somewhere else, particularly from overseas travellers as well. 

“People plan their holidays and travel a long time in advance.” 

Graham says this means it could have affected people looking to book something for down the track, too.

“We’re really only just starting to see the repercussions for a lot of businesses,” he says.

“We’re starting to get a steady flow of people sending us information who are starting to quantify and understand what’s going on.” 

The challenge at the moment, according to Graham, is they need more information of how people have been affected before they can know how to help. 

“The more information we get, the more we can plan how to help,” he says.

“The challenge is, how do we assess the impacts and how do we do it economically?

“We know from some of our members that cash flow supply is what businesses need. 

“There’s federal assistance packages available for people in bushfire-affected areas but we don’t have clarity if a smoke-affected business is eligible.”

The Canberra Business Chamber is looking into this to see if local businesses can get support. 

“I hope the ACT government will be able to provide assistance when we understand more, too,” Graham says. 

Some small business owners have reported five days without selling anything, which for them, Graham says is unprecedented. 

“The implication of this reaches out into employment and we’re starting to hear stories now of people who have had to stand people down,” he says. 

To help support these businesses, Graham’s now urging the community to think about doing things in the region that they’ve always wanted to. 

He says why not go to a tourist attraction in Canberra that’s always been on the list, or go and stay at a hotel, or grab some food at a cafe or restaurant. 

“Think about the region. Plan a two week trip to the region, which could include a trip to the south coast, too,” he says. 

“People in the community are generally referring to the break as the summer we didn’t have.

“It’s about getting that holiday back that you never had and supporting the region at the same time. 

“[But] we need to make sure we don’t fall into a trap of only supporting Canberra, or only supporting Braidwood, Batemans Bay or Yass. We need to support the whole region.”

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Danielle Nohra
Danielle Nohra is a "CityNews" staff journalist.

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