Christmas tourism window closing as operators sweat on border opening

Tourism operators fear the ongoing uncertainty around the status of Queensland’s borders is scaring away interstate travellers from booking holidays in the Sunshine State over the peak Christmas period.

Nov 12, 2020, updated Nov 12, 2020
The all-important Christmas season may be a dud for tourism operators if Queensland's borders remain closed to Sydneysiders Photo: ABC

The all-important Christmas season may be a dud for tourism operators if Queensland's borders remain closed to Sydneysiders Photo: ABC

Tourism operators are fearful the ongoing uncertainty around Queensland’s borders is scaring away interstate travellers from booking holidays in the Sunshine State over the peak Christmas period.

The industry has long been calling on the State Government to reopen borders to all states and territories after the sector suffered billion-dollar losses amid the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

While Queensland reopened its borders to regional New South Wales on November 3, it has remained closed to Greater Sydney and the entire state of Victoria.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said further announcements on the state’s borders will be made at the end of the month.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said businesses that were still struggling to survive were hoping for a busy summer to make up for lost revenue caused by the pandemic.

“One has to assume that the ongoing uncertainty around borders … is not encouraging consumers to make bookings, and certainly it would also encourage some to cancel their bookings,” he said.

“They’re not sure whether they will be able to travel and they don’t want to take the risk.”

He said even if borders were to open to Sydneysiders at the start of December, it will be a struggle for the industry to recapture bookings over Christmas.

“Anybody who’s considering booking now and is keen to make a decision now will obviously choose another destination if they’re looking to travel interstate,” he said.

Gschwind said while the latest statistics from August have shown that Queensland has been doing better than all other states and territories, tourism remains significantly down.

“It still puts us 24 per cent down month-on-month for the month of August, so we’re still losing nearly $400 million in August this year, compared to August last year, even if we consider that more Queenslanders travelled… than the previous August,” he said.

Figures from Tourism Research Australia show Queensland’s domestic tourism losses to be around $362 million for August, which does not include losses from the international market.

The loss is a fraction of that sustained in April when Queensland’s losses peaked at about $1.5 billion — down nearly 90 per cent from its usual number of domestic travellers.

Paul Crocombe runs Adrenaline Dive — a diving company that operates out of Townsville, taking holidaymakers out to the Great Barrier Reef.

With international visitors typically making up about 60 per cent of his clients and domestic travellers accounting for the remaining 20 per cent, Crocombe said his company was barely surviving.

He said people were very nervous about making bookings.

“Anybody from out of Queensland seems a bit reluctant to commit,” he said.

“We’ve had to change our … refund policy to try and get people to commit to the booking, I think that’s the same with a lot of the other operators as well.”

Crocombe said his company’s policy now ensures clients will not incur any penalty if they are forced to cancel their bookings due to border closures.

Pankaj Sinha, General Manager at Townsville’s Oaks Hotel, said cancellations this year were definitely higher than last year.

He has also had to alter his hotel’s refund policy in a bid to attract reluctant holidaymakers.

“We have to be flexible … and that does affect our business, but that’s one of the things that you just have to deal with.”

General Manager of SeaWorld Cruises, Anthony Ardern, said the lack of certainty had also made it hard to roster staff as customer rates were down significantly during weekdays.

“We’re flat out on weekends, we know we’re going to be flat out on the Christmas-New Year period but we don’t have that continuity of business … to keep a larger workforce employed,” he said.

He said their current ticket sales were down around 70-80 per cent compared with a usual season.

Ardern said while he hoped a travel bubble with New Zealand might soon be on the cards, clarity is what he’s most looking for.

“Give us some clear dates so people can start planning and booking their travel,” he said.

In Cairns, Brian Hennessy from Sunlover Reef Cruises is optimistic for the months ahead.

He said while his company had not seen a high number of bookings, it also had not experienced a significant number of cancellations.

“Bookings are coming in, I wouldn’t say that there was a rush but it’s certainly coming in very steadily,” he said.

“We’ve put cancellation conditions in place so that if they do need to cancel because of border conditions or anything of that nature there’s obviously no charge to them.”

He said while they had not seen a significant amount of people coming in from regional New South Wales since the border reopened to them, he remained hopeful for the months ahead.

“We’re obviously waiting with bated breath for Sydney to be open,” Mr Hennessy said.

“Our belief is that the borders will open fully and that we’ll be able to welcome people from Sydney and hopefully Victoria as well, so we’re backing ourselves that it’s going to be a bumper Christmas/New Year period.

“Everyone’s frustrated and anybody who makes any predictions in 2020 is a very brave person.”

He said aside from the status of the state’s borders, much of his business will depend on what airlines do.

In a statement, Qantas spokesperson Stephen Moynihan said while the airline was still running several Sydney to Brisbane flights each day, routes like Sydney-Hamilton Island, Sydney-Cairns, Sydney-Gold Coast and Sydney-Sunshine Coast have been cancelled until the first week of December.

“We’d look to add additional flights or reinstate services once there is confirmation around border openings,” he said.


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