Queensland tourism experiences multi-speed recovery as restrictions ease
Jun 26, 2020
By Stuart Layt
Queensland’s tourism operators are hoping for a boost in visitors these school holidays as a result of travel restrictions being eased, but not all parts of the state seem to be benefiting equally.
And local tourists will not fully assuage the hit caused by the border closures, which have stopped the annual influx of New South Wales and Victorian families seeking warmer environs during the winter school holidays.
The state government has already announced that travel within Queensland is now unrestricted after movement was strictly limited earlier this year to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
For the last few weeks, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has been travelling around the state herself, announcing incentives to get people to come to different areas.
This week the Premier has travelled to outback centres including Longreach and Barcaldine to encourage people to make the journey and support local communities.
It appears that at least some of the messaging is working, with latest research conducted by government body Tourism and Events Queensland indicating 42 per cent of Queenslanders plan to travel for the 2020 winter holiday period.
That’s an increase on last year’s figures, when roughly a third of people (30 per cent) travelled within Queensland for their winter break.
TEQ is itself running an ad campaign to promote intrastate travel for the winter break, and chief executive Leanne Coddington said they believe it has had an effect.
"Anecdotally we are hearing reports of good booking numbers in regions across the state, which is great news for operators who have had an extremely difficult past six months," Ms Coddington said.
"Places like the Whitsundays, Agnes Waters, the Granite Belt and the Sunshine Coast, just to name a few, have all reported strong bookings for the June-July school holidays and we know that often there is a last-minute surge of bookings, so that is positive."
Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the mood from tourism operators was positive overall, after a number of months of uncertainty, but added that the benefits of reopening the state were not being felt equally.
"Accommodation providers in the south-east corner are doing quite well with bookings at the moment," Mr Gschwind said.
"The story is not as bright for those farther afield, in places like north Queensland or the outback, where customers would want to have access to flights for a start, and also they rely more on interstate travel, which still has a bit of a question mark over it."
The state government has listed July 10 as the potential date for opening the borders to interstate travel, with a decision to be made by the end of June.
There has been a lot of pressure put on the Premier from southern states to open the borders earlier to help boost struggling tourism operators. However, with the low number of virus cases within Queensland, the government has taken a cautious approach.
Mr Gschwind said operators in south-east Queensland were benefiting more from the relaxed movement, because people were more likely to get into their car than onto a plane during the pandemic.
The government has announced flight deals for a number of areas, including the Whitsundays, which Mr Gschwind said is reporting a spike in bookings after the subsidised flights were announced.
In its latest report, federal government body Tourism Research Australia said tourism generated $28.3 billion for Queensland's economy in both direct and indirect revenue in 2018-19.
That number is expected to be vastly down for 2019-20, and Mr Gschwind said even with the bump from internal travel, most operators were not making up the shortfall.
"They're happy to have some business as opposed to not having any; the mood is quite optimistic, but we're not out of the woods yet," he said.
"The borders being opened will make a big difference: southerners like to come here for their winter holidays, and they tend to take longer holidays than local tourists."
Complicating matters is the social-distancing measures that remain in place for venues, with 20 people allowed in a venue at a time, but with more allowed if the operators have submitted a social distancing plan.
University of Southern Queensland tourism expert Frances Cassidy said many small operators in the Granite Belt region were already at capacity under the regulations, which would not be lifted further until after the school holidays are over.
"Because of the social distancing, there are only so many spaces in the restaurants and so many rooms to be had," she said.
Ms Cassidy said the Granite Belt was a comfortable distance to drive from Brisbane, which meant it was seeing benefits from the reopening that more regional areas were not.
"I think people are a bit wary at the moment and lack the confidence to go further afield [for holidays]," she said.
"There are actually some really good deals out there at the moment, but we need to give consumers the confidence to travel again."
Ms Cassidy said she believed the tourism sector would bounce back eventually, but it was going to be a long road, and not everyone would make it.
"Some of the operators are starting to see pretty good figures come in, considering it’s only a few months since all of this started," she said.
"I think it will all bounce back quicker than people were expecting, but many regional operators are struggling, and if we can do something as simple as taking a holiday to assist them, hopefully they will make it through the year."
Even within the south-east of the state there are operators who haven’t seen as much of a bump as they would like.
Maggie Best, co-manager of Meridian Tower Hotel at Coolangatta near the NSW border, said the resort has been hit hard by the border closures, and domestic tourism has only gone a small way to making up the shortfall.
The building has a mix of temporary and permanent accommodation, and usually sees its empty rooms filled with interstate and overseas visitors over the winter season.
"We get the same winter weather as Brisbane, and we have the same thickness of skin, so Brisbane people aren’t coming to the southern Gold Coast for a beach holiday in the middle of winter," Ms Best said.
"We’ve had a few bookings, which is good, but they’re coming for a few days at a time. But Victorians, people from NSW, they come and stay for four weeks, eight weeks - they stay all winter."
Mr Gschwind said while the school holiday bump would help many operators, the state’s tourism industry was large and complex, and would take time to recover even once the pandemic is over.
"Tourism is a bit of a puzzle. It was definitely smashed up [by the pandemic] and we are now trying to put the pieces back together," he said.
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