One of the longest running tourism businesses in Australia’s first tourist destination, the internationally recognised Blue Mountains Explorer Bus fleet, is the latest business victim of COVID-19 and has been parked indefinitely.
A red double-decker hop-on/hop-off sightseeing bus has already been sold, with another five on the market.
The fleet is not sustainable without international visitors, and domestic tour and coach company Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT) which owns them, cannot afford to maintain the fleet without government help.
FAT managing director Jason Cronshaw said the indefinite closure of Blue Mountains Explorer Bus followed several closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2019-20 bushfires before that.
Mr Cronshaw, who also owned international tour company Christian Fellowship Tours, said the fleet had become untenable.
“While of course we’re thankful for the recent NSW Government rescue package, it won’t save us,” he said.
“Without international tourists it’s just not viable. We’re running a 77-seater bus with one or two people. It costs us $3.50 per kilometre on a 26km circuit and tickets are $49 for an all-day pass. The maths just doesn’t add up.”
FAT has operated the Blue Mountains Explorer Bus fleet around Katoomba and Leura since 1986 and conducted sightseeing tours and charters around Australia for two generations since 1974.
It was forced to close its Blue Mountains Explorer Bus sightseeing run for 27 days over December 2019 – January 2020 because of the bushfires and reported a 60 per cent drop in passengers between that December and February 2020.
During the weekend of March 14-15, 2020, numbers plummeted another 50 per cent almost overnight because of Coronavirus.
Four days later [on March 19], Explorer Bus services were slashed from 15 a day to seven, with 2.5 drivers a day to one.
Recently, the double-decker fleet has run only on weekends and holidays, and the average weekly driver roster of 350 hours had dropped to 78.
Meanwhile parent company FAT suffered an 85 per cent drop in charter work and forward cancellations from schools and corporates and other group travel until October. Work had picked up recently but came to an abrupt halt with the latest lockdown order.
Until the lockdown, Mr Cronshaw himself drove a morning and afternoon bus run for a local private school to feed his own family.
He is actively job hunting for additional employment.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.