Tourism’s knockdown from lockdown

"Roving Rogers" John and Desley made the trip to Longreach despite the difficulties. PHOTO: Suzie C McDarra.

THE savage blow to communities relying on the tourism dollar looks set to continue as the announcement earlier this month by the Premier that “now is not the time to be travelling to regional Queensland”.

“Unless you are an essential worker, put off plans to visit family and friends in regional Queensland for the next two weeks,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk?said as she announced the SEQ lockdown had ended, but a three-day lockdown in Cairns had started.

Having spent money telling Australia they are still open for business post an erroneous ‘COVID-19-scare’ and, seeing business start to pick back up, tourism operators were left reeling as they faced another wave of cancellations.

As a sign of the times, on Monday, there were only 12 people on the plane and the previous Wednesday there was only four people on the train.

Outback Aussie Tours owner-operator Alan ‘Smithy’ Smith said 100 per cent of tours were cancelled for the coming two weeks but was encouraged that many were rescheduling until October.

Richard Kinnon founder of Kinnon & Co’s Outback Pioneer?experiences spent Monday “in chaos” as 70 to 80 per cent of bookings for the coming weeks were cancelled.

“Where it’s tough is on the owner-operators where they’ve got staff in place for all these forward bookings and all of a sudden, we are just getting our bookings taken off us left, right, and centre,” Mr Kinnon said.

He said his staff on the front line have been doing 15 to 16-hour days for weeks to get on top of it.

“And now the poor girls on the counter doing the admin – they’re about to throw their hands in the air – they’ve done the same work three times and it’s a lot of work.

“We’re also dealing with the “knee jerk reaction from travel agents” who wanted to cancel tours further out thinking this uncertainty is going to be “an ongoing thing”.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) Chief Executive & Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC) Deputy Chair, Daniel Gschwind said this new “surprise” intrastate travel ban announced by the Premier has left operators “in absolute despair”.

“We (tourism operators) are cut off from our customers.

“If people cannot travel or don’’t want to travel because they’’re worried about ending up on the wrong side of some border, there’’s no business.”

On Tuesday, the State Government responded to QTIC’s suggestion for relief from fees and charges including deferral of payroll tax and refunding liquor licensing charges.

“We are also pushing the Federal Government for wage subsidies, and flexibility in the Fair Work Act as per Job Keeper times, so employees can be kept in jobs,” Mr Gschwind said.

To further support the nation’s $150 billion tourism, events, and hospitality industry, ATIC devised an urgent call-to-action releasing a three-point plan this week.

While April proved to be the strongest start of the tourism sector’s history yet, the mass exodus of caravaners from Longreach on July 23 happened after the erroneous announcement of a COVID-19 positive test by a Qantas attendant on a Longreach flight.

Despite the all-clear with western Queensland maintaining its record of zero positive cases, the damage was done with thousands of dollars in cancellations occurring to the two major tourism businesses overnight.

Mr Kinnon said during the July weekend he had more than $40,000 to $50,000 worth of cancellations in the 72 hours following, for the coming four or five days’ worth of tours for the weekly groups.

“Plus, we had all our FIT’s (Free Independent Travellers in campervans) that pulled out and all our forward bookings in the motel – well, we’re still seeing the effects of that as previously we were 100 per cent booked out – there wasn’t a room to be had, but now we’re not,” Mr Kinnon said.

“I think most of the moteliers in town would be the same.”

Except for a strong fortnight of holidays, both Mr Kinnon and Mr Smith have reported a 30 to 50 per cent drop since.

“I’m hoping local businesses can consider more promotions and events for our coming summer because we are fully operational on the boat and some tours until just before Christmas,” said Mr Smith.