A group of industry and government leaders have come together in a bid to save the city's struggling tourism and hospitality sectors.
A City Taskforce led by the City of Newcastle was established in April with 17 different stakeholders meeting to look at options for recovery through the COVID-19 crisis.
The taskforce's first response looked at the community sector, while the second focused on one of the areas hit hardest by the coronavirus - tourism.
Research from tourism data provider STR shows a total of 5.1 million people visited Newcastle in 2019, injecting $945 million into the local economy and helping sustain 4,950, or nearly five per cent of total jobs.
But from February to April this year, 25,000 jobs were lost across Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, as restrictions closed retail, hospitality, tourism and arts businesses.
Newcastle Airport CEO Dr Peter Cock said the airport had suffered a 99.7 per cent drop in passengers since late March. The STR data also revealed an average decline of 75 per cent in weekly hotel occupancy between February and May.
"The tourism and hospitality industries were hit very early, some even at the end of January when the borders were closed to China," said Will Creedon, who is the managing director of accommodation provider Alloggio and is also part of the City Taskforce. "They've been impacted significantly right through. It's been a very difficult sector."
In response, the taskforce has written to relevant state and federal minsters calling for support for an interstate destination marketing campaign for Greater Newcastle and to list Newcastle as a destination independent of the North Coast on Destination NSW's websites.
Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said it was important for Newcastle to be recognised on its own with different attractions and attributes than metropolitan cities or rural areas.
She said people used to think of Newcastle as the steel city, but attractions such as the Supercars, the upgraded Bathers Way, Surfest and the growth in fine dining, restaurants, small bars had helped to change that image.
"It's become quite a sought after place," she said.
Dr Cock said Newcastle Airport was the most significant gateway airport into NSW outside of Sydney, which provided an opportunity to enhance interstate and international tourism.
"We believe that NSW should have a plan to leverage each of its direct entry points to maximise the benefits to regional communities and NSW as a whole," he said. "Further we are a distinct, self sufficient, geographically close region with a diverse offering all within an hour of the Airport. We feel we deserve a focus that reflects this."
The taskforce also recognised the need for JobKeeper to be extended or alternative support measures introduced for tourism-related businesses and advocated for the reversal of 200 Hunter Jetstar job losses. Finally, the response appealed for additional tourism product development training from Destination NSW.
As well as advocating for support, the taskforce has taken its own actions. It has developed a destination marketing campaign to target the Melbourne and Brisbane market, created a $500,000 Industry Response Program and the University of Newcastle is also working to establish a tourism/business management short course for tourism operators.
Cr Nelmes said the main priority of the taskforce was to protect jobs in the most vulnerable sectors, both now and into the future.
"We will eventually come out of COVID-19, and we want to make sure we have hospitality and tourism sectors still working well for our city," she said.
"It will take quite a long time to recover from this," Mr Creedon said. "In the back of everybody's mind is how is the economy going to look in months and years time. We need to look at it over a three year period. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs."
But the stakeholders were optimistic of achieving results.
"I feel extra positive about the spirit of the taskforce, the leadership and what we're going to achieve over the next year and beyond," Mr Creedon said.
"Regional collaboration can sometimes be difficult to corral and manage, but we've found cooperation between stakeholders has been excellent on this initiative," Dr Cock said. "We are hopeful a coordinated, regional wide response, with well reasoned objectives will deliver an effective response from government. Certainly without further support, some hospitality and tourism operators simply won't survive."