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'Lockdown tourism' booms in regional Queensland as travellers leap on COVID cancellations

ABC Business logoABC Business 13/07/2021 By Owen Jacques and staff
a small boat in a body of water: Tourists from unaffected areas swooped in to take advantage of school holiday vacancies in Noosa. (Supplied: Tourism Noosa) © Provided by ABC Business Tourists from unaffected areas swooped in to take advantage of school holiday vacancies in Noosa. (Supplied: Tourism Noosa)

Savvy travellers are pouncing on last-minute hotel rooms and holidays around Queensland amid a flood of COVID cancellations.

Popular destinations are being targeted by visitors acting quickly to secure rooms or trips cancelled as a result of a COVID cluster or outbreak, creating a kind of lockdown tourism in regional Queensland.

Tourists jump on Noosa for lockdown deals

The exclusive beachside getaway paused its almost-constant targeting of Melbourne travellers wanting to escape the southern climes, and has instead been focusing on regional Queenslanders.

But Adam Townsend from Visit Noosa said it did not matter, with Melbourne tourists pouring into the area in the first weeks of July.

He said the inability of Sydneysiders to fly in meant that fast-moving Victorians were able to scoop up their empty rooms.

"Making hay while the sun shines is the perfect way of putting it," he said.

"We don't want these restrictions and things but if someone else has an opportunity to snap up some accommodation, it can be positive."

He said it was still a "tricky" time for the area, but that operators were becoming adept at responding to snap lockdowns.

Locals fill Whitsunday gaps

The Whitsundays tourism industry was cheerful ahead of a peak school holiday period, but that swiftly turned to horror as an emerging spread of COVID cases prompted a shutdown.

Tourism Whitsundays' Jade Edney said it had been a shock to operators.

"The school holiday period quickly became a distressing time for the tourism industry as lockdowns and restrictions occurred across the country," she said.

As the cancellations rippled through the region, others leapt on the vacancies, just like in Noosa, or booked more nights to enjoy extra time instead of returning home to a lockdown.

Water sports operator James Steed said he had put on extra staff, in the Whitsundays and in Townsville, only to "lay them off".

His jet ski tours rely heavily on interstate tourism, with interstate travellers making up 75 per cent of his customers in Townsville and more than 90 per cent in the Whitsundays.

Mr Steed has called for travel vouchers to be reintroduced by the state government to help tourism operators survive the winter months.

And he is not the only tour operator battling during COVID.

July is the start of the whale watching season in Hervey Bay, but Pacific Whale Foundation's bookings are still under 50 per cent.

Director of operations Andrew Ellis said there was too much uncertainty for people to book.

"No-one is willing to book to go to Hervey Bay to go whale watching because they don't know what's going to happen," he said.

In the state's far north, Richard Berman-Hardman said his business did well considering what he called disruption and confusion around the lockdown.

He said the uncertainty of border closures and lockdowns still had an impact on things as the business now relies on Queensland travellers, but given the brevity of the recent lockdown, things recovered quickly.

"It was a road-hump rather than a brick wall and we surged on after that," he said.

Caravans roll into CQ as islands deserted

The Capricorn coast, east of Rockhampton, was hit not just by the sudden loss of capital city tourists, but also by out-of-season rains for the first half of the school holidays.

Capricorn Enterprise's Mary Carroll said cruises and island accommodation spots were hit the hardest.

She said their visitor numbers had fallen between 24 per cent and 50 per cent, although local residents did fill in many cancellations.

"But the islands suffered, and are still suffering from cancellations from New South Wales, particularly boutique accommodation that does derive quite a lot of its bookings through winter from the southern states."

However the caravans continued to roll through, and local attractions including the crocodile farm did well as people tried to find things to do despite the rough weather.

"Depending on the sector and the market, some numbers were very good and others were not," Ms Carroll said.

Outback booms with big bash, drives

While tourism operators on the coast are crying out for visitors, outback Queensland region is enduring its biggest tourism season in years.

Amy Woodhouse owns and operates the Boulia Riverside Roadhouse, some 10 hours drive inland from Queensland's east coast.

She said her business was struggling to keep up with tourist's demands for supplies, mainly diesel.

"Just based on the deliveries I've had ... it'd be close to 100,000 (litres) in the last two-and-a-half weeks," she said.

"Based on the last 12 months I was getting 8,000 a month at the absolute most."

The swift in-and-out lockdown was also not quite enough to cancel the Big Red Bash for a second year, with the outback festival welcoming 10,000 people to Birdsville on July 6.

Gold Coast looks to NRL for bounce back

Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O'Callaghan said the school holidays had left operators disappointed.

"While we were expecting a bumper holiday and did see originally 70 to 80 per cent occupancy. We were sitting at around 40 per cent, so we know that our industry has been hurting," she said.

"We're the first industry that bears the brunt of any announcements or restrictions"

Ms O'Callaghan said she hoped news of the third State of Origin game moving to the Gold Coast, and NRL competition to Queensland, would help the Gold Coast bounce back.

Pour another glass, says wine country

Tourism operators on the Granite Belt said they barely felt the effects of the lockdown, drawing strong numbers almost every day of the school holidays.

Granite Belt Wine Tourism Association president Martin Cooper said he had four cancellations from guests planning to stay at his Severnlea winery as soon as the lockdown was announced.

"But within half an hour those cancellations had been filled," he said.

"We feel for those areas that aren't coping too well.

"We are one of the lucky ones."

Additional reporting by Tara Cassidy, Chloe Chomicki, Lucy Loram, Lucy Robinson, Zara Margolis, Holly Richardson, and Johanna Marie.

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Video: Impact of lockdown felt across Queensland (ABC NEWS)


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