Marg Wade said the mood had changed at the most recent meeting of Canberra's close-knit tour operator industry.
The chair of the newly formed ACT Small Tour Operators Collective said businesses had remained optimistic about their prospects of survival, even as the pandemic decimated their heavily visitor-reliant sector through 2020.
But just weeks out from the end of the JobKeeper wage subsidy, the financial lifeline for operators, optimism had given way to resignation.
"Our last meeting was the first time that tour operators actually said, with the end of JobKeeper, I will have to go," Ms Wade said.
"A number of operators said they can no longer survive and they indicated they were selling their vehicles and they were looking for work.
"The big thing about the operators is that they are passionate about their product. It is the passion that keeps people in there.
"But now people are saying, 'I've done this for decades, what am I going to do now'?"
The Canberra Times spoke to Ms Wade for its Over The Cliff Series, which is looking at what the winding up JobKeeper and the JobSeeker supplement at the end of March will mean for the ACT.
Ms Wade said many tour operators - the businesses which show visitors and Canberrans around the territory's institutions, wineries, bars, restaurants and historical attractions - wouldn't be able to survive unless JobKeeper was replaced with another form of direct cash support.
"The bills don't stop," she said. "If you don't have cash support you can't keep going, you simply can't."
Business was booming for Ms Wade's Canberra Secrets Personalised Tours in 2019, with the solo operator showing more than 500 people around the nation's capital. More than half of her clients were international travelers.
Then came 2020, bringing first hazardous bushfire smoke and then a global pandemic. She ran a tour on March 23, the day Canberra and Australia was forced into lockdown.
The next tour wasn't until October 31, and she's run just five in the months since then.
The easing of coronavirus restrictions in the ACT and elsewhere has not brought an uptick in demand from interstate visitors.
For that, she blames state border closures and the resulting hit to confidence. If there is so much of a "whiff" of a border closure, she said, bookings are swiftly cancelled.
Canberra's local tour operator community is relatively small. The "collective" formed last year counts about 30 companies among its members.
But Ms Wade said the industry's potential collapse would be devastating for Canberra, for economic and cultural reasons.
"It means that when the visitor comes to Canberra, there will be no tour operator to take them. The visitor experience in Canberra will be disappointing," she said.
Ms Wade said the sector had lobbied the ACT government for cash grants earlier, similar to schemes offered in other states. The Barr government didn't oblige, although it did agree to waive vehicle registration fees.
The ACT budget handed down last week included funding to help the Canberra's tourism sector recover from a $1.3 billion coronavirus hit, including $2 million toward a major marketing campaign and $2 million for another round of ChooseCBR voucher program.
Canberra Region Tourism Leaders Forum chair David Marshall said the federal government should offer financial support to struggling businesses after JobKeeper ended.
Rather than target specific industries, as has been suggested, Mr Marshall said support should be extended to businesses which have suffered a significant decline in turnover from 2019 levels.
"It has been a lifesaver," Mr Marshall said of JobKeeper.
"Without it, many would not have been able to survive over the past 12 months."