Flight Centre boss blasts ‘overbearing’ restrictions
DAMAGE to Australia's economy caused by the 'overbearing' COVID-19 lockdown rules will soon outweigh the health benefits, the boss of Australia's largest travel firm has declared.
International airport closures, barricaded border checkpoints and a decree for people to stay at home has torpedoed the travel and tourism industry worse than any other.
Managing director of Queensland holiday giant Flight Centre Travel Group, Graham 'Skroo' Turner, has hit out at overbearing government restrictions
"I think there's a lot of mixed-messaging and a lot of trying to induce panic in the population which is just not necessary I don't think," he said.
Mr Turner, a self-confessed outdoorsman, questioned why swimming pools were closed and other open-air activities restricted.
"You wonder who is dreaming some of these conditions up," he said.
"Domestic and local travel restrictions need to be eased.
"The main thing is we start travelling again domestically as soon as its feasible."
Flight Centre, which has seen its market capitalisation plunge from $4.4 billion in December to $1.23 billion, can survive the downturn for months to come, Mr Turner said.
"We've got enough cash for the next 18 months if there's very little revenue but the indications are travel will come back over the next three to six months to a certain extent," he said.
The multimillion-dollar boss tips a pick-up in domestic travel by early June and a longer, 12 to 18-month recovery for international travel.
"It's reliant on government reducing travel restrictions of course," he said.
A return to domestic travel, which makes up about half of Flight Centre's revenue, is the company's focus.
"It will almost certainly come back before international travel," he said
Mr Turner, who has spent the past three weeks locked up in a "war game" crisis meeting at the company's South Bank office, said Australia was "just about" at the point where "the economic damage will outweigh the restrictions".
"The virus is not going to be eliminated I think everyone accepts that," he said.
To fast-track a return to normality Mr Turner believes people should be free to move while at-risk residents should remain cautious.
"Life has to get back to normal sooner rather than later and people who are vulnerable need to isolate," he said.
"For people in their 50s … under 40s, there seems to be little risk.
"Their risk is infecting older people."
Mr Turner, who has led Flight Centre through several downturns, said this was different.
"There's been a few recessions, the Gulf War in 1991, which have had an impact for maybe six months or a year or so," he said.
"This is far more devastating than anything we've seen."
Flight Centre has cut its spending from $240 million every month to $67 million, with room to make more drastic cuts if the virus continues.
"All companies are going to have to go a lot harder the longer it lasts," he said.
Despite the dire outlook Mr Turner insisted the travel giant remained strong, and would eventually benefit from the experience.
"The coronavirus will be around for a few years … we've just got to learn to live with it," he said.
"We'll be leaner and smaller, but hopefully just as effective."
Originally published as Flight Centre boss blasts 'overbearing' restrictions