Quentin Nolan has been running his travel business, Liquid Snow Tours, which organises ski and snowboard holidays to New Zealand, Japan and North America, for 16 years.
When COVID-19 hit, he was forced to cancel and refund two years’ worth of bookings.
The JobKeeper wage subsidy was welcomed with open arms, and went a long way in retaining key staff. Nevertheless, his team of 14 dwindled down to seven.
But once the scheme winds down completely after Sunday 28 March, Nolan worries he won’t have much of a business left.
“With this ending and international borders not yet open, we basically will be forced to reduce our staff to zero,” he told Yahoo Finance.
Some loyal staff that have been with the business for a long time have agreed to stay on the books with zero hours and no income, Nolan said.
Other employees, who will be essential when international travel does return, will be offered a few hours – but this will come directly out of his pocket.
“In essence I will use all my personal savings to keep staff employed and getting some income so they can live as the Government is failing them,” Nolan said.
Once JobKeeper ends, the business will become a shadow of what it once was during its heyday.
“We are a thriving business that has grown considerably and have been unable to trade due to decisions outside our control, borders being closed.”
Jared Harford is the producer and programmer at boutique production company Interactive Theatre International.
The production company is currently running a show at the Opera House, with five full time staff and 11 casual actors – but has had to rely on the Government’s wage subsidy after being unable to tour last year and audience sizes were reduced.
In March last year, $450,000 in refunds was processed in a single day, with all work for the year wiped out.
Lockdown meant losses that couldn’t be clawed back – venue fees, marketing, flights, visa fees, credit card transaction fees, and more.
There was just enough money left over to pay staff their leave entitlements.
With revenue down by 90 per cent in 2020, JobKeeper has been an indispensable lifeline for the business, Harford said.
“The subsidy kept our business afloat while we literally had no income and no work due to COVID restrictions. Once we were allowed to start performing again, JobKeeper was the only thing that made performing to such small audiences viable for us and the venues we work with,” he told Yahoo Finance.
JobKeeper made it possible to plan for some kind of future for the business, and meant Harford could pay his mortgage, stay on top of bills, and pay for basic living expenses.
But the subsidy – which started at $1,500 a fortnight but later moved to a tiered system, has been reduced twice. Now, the highest rate available for full-time staff of eligible businesses is $500 a week.
It’s meant Harford has had to struggle to make ends meet and skip meals.
“On the new JobKeeper rate, there isn't enough to pay the mortgage, we're cutting expenses everywhere we can, and that means sometimes just eating once a day.”
This year, things are looking a bit more hopeful – but the damage has been done.
“Recovery is slow and border closures and snap lockdowns are incredibly damaging for the arts industry,” said Harford.
He believes his business will make it, but only just; some regional tours the production company would normally do just won’t happen, and there will be fewer shows as they can’t risk more snap border closures.
Interactive Theatre International staff have already started looking outside the entertainment industry for full-time work. Other venues have closed, while others who have managed to survive are raising prices to make up for the lost revenue.
Arts Minister Paul Fletcher yesterday announced an additional $135 million in support for the arts sector, but it’s unclear how far this will go in assisting the production company, which might not find its feet until next year.
“I'll struggle to earn any income, and whilst planning is underway for 2022, none of that money is seen until after the shows take place in 2022,” Harford said.
“Unless venues can open again at 100 per cent or are supported through these restrictions, I fear for the whole industry.”