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Outback Tourism builds new season, but will the people come?

Open interstate borders and relaxed international travel in 2022 will offer a tougher test for Queensland’s ‘Outback’ tourism sector to prove it has a shot at being a sustainable drawcard for holidaymakers.

Mar 03, 2022, updated Mar 03, 2022
Event promoter Krista Hauritz wants the world to know about Julia Creek's Dirt and Dust Festival. (Photo: Brad Cooper)

Event promoter Krista Hauritz wants the world to know about Julia Creek's Dirt and Dust Festival. (Photo: Brad Cooper)

With summer drawing to a close and the cooler months heralding the start of the traditional outback tourism season, the sector’s chief body is making its case that rural and regional Queensland can compete without the assistance of Covid.

As previously reported by InQueensland, the region’s tourist operators, mostly located in the western interior and remote coastal areas, have enjoyed record-breaking seasons since 2020.

That was the time from when border closures forced local holidaymakers to spend their leisure dollars in their own back yard.

Covid’s inadvertent promotional fillip worked a treat, sending pent-up and cashed-up travellers, who might normally take to the skies for foreign climes, onto Queensland’s remote highways and red dusty trails.

The phenomenon led Qantas Founders Museum CEO Tony Martin to quip to InQueensland at the time that he had never before seen so many European luxury cars driving down the main street of Longreach.

Petrol stations selling premium unleaded fuel to all those European marques weren’t the only enterprises doing good business.

Motels and caravan parks were jam-packed and booked out weeks in advance, some with longer-term ‘grey-nomad’ residents who were taking refuge from Covid’s ravaging of Victoria and NSW.

Acute housing shortages in many regional towns were also forcing seasonal workers and professional relieving staff in such sectors as health, education and emergency services to look for beds normally occupied by the short-stay vacationers and commercial travellers.

Restaurants, cafes, clubs and pubs were doing a roaring trade, bursting at the seams of their capacity, especially with labour, normally drawn from the ranks of European backpackers, in chronically short supply.

The unexpected economic windfall blew all the way back to Brisbane.

A prominent Brisbane meat trader told me during the Beef Australia event in Rockhampton last year, that his company had never before delivered so much product into the food-service and catering channel throughout regional Queensland.

Goodness knows how the alcohol and beverage sector fared.

But it wasn’t all beer and skittles. Large events, like festivals, which draw big crowds into limited days of intense activity, were mothballed while the state sought protection from the pandemic’s threat.

Not even the Ekka, the state’s biggest agricultural show, could escape, with the event cancelled for the second year in a row.

Like the Ekka, Julia Creek’s popular Dirt and Dust Festival has been in hibernation since it was last held in 2019.

The event, which also went through some internal challenges within its local organising committee at the same time, is on track to spring back this year from April 22-24.

The event’s promoter Krista Hauritz said a determined group of locals from the district was “working their butts off” to resurrect the program and return it to its glory days.

The Ballina based Hauritz and her Sunshine Coast based colleague Sally Bird were at the season launch of the outback tourism season in Brisbane on Thursday night.

The pair are also responsible for marketing and promoting the ‘world-famous’ (so I was told) Outback Masters golf event.

Played on six rural golf courses, the unique event under the management of Golf Australia, is considered the world’s richest amateur event.

This year it will be played from June-July at Roma, Tambo, Barcaldine, Winton, Mount Isa and Birdsville.

Sally Bird drums up interest in the Outback Masters as pro golfers Tony Meyer and Jed Morgan look on. (Photo: Brad Cooper).

The ‘million-dollar-hole’, where a player can receive $1 million for acing a designated hole, will this year be at Birdsville.

In the three years of the event, no player has scored the million bucks but one player last year did scalp $10,000 off one hole at Quilpie.

For a purely amateur fixture, it was an interesting choice to bring in pro golfer and last month’s Australian PGA winner Jed Morgan as the event’s ambassador, who was happy to lend some helpful tips to guests prepared to have a go at sinking a putt on a specially constructed sandy ‘green’.

But at least the rising star of the sport added some semblance of occasion to the season opening, in what appeared to be a more low-key function than those held previously.

From what I observed last night at the Royal Exhibition and Convention Centre at Bowen Hills, the luxury resorts and the prestige attractions, those with a bit of ‘wow’ factor were missing, as were the visitors looking for a taste of the outback experience.

Admittedly, I only stayed for the first 90 minutes of the four-and-a-half-hour program. It may have picked up.

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I decided to pull the pin after one representative of the Qld Rail stand could only tell me that the “trains were on track” when asked with a soft-soap question what rail travel had in store for holidaymakers and those seeking some rural adventure in 2022.

From a safety and operational perspective, it was a reassuring message, but it hardly sold the sausage with any sizzle.

The folk at Outback Queensland Tourism Association will be hoping for no further snags as the season gets under way.

As the viral storm recedes, Outback Queensland Tourism Association CEO, Denise Brown, is looking to the heavens in the hope the weather will continue to flush out the big tourist numbers.

Also launching a new 117-page outback tourism guide, in a prepared statement ahead of the event, Brown said:

“Outback Queensland had a bumper tourism season last year, but we’ve got more in store for those with the travel bug this season.

“The La Nina rains have breathed new life into the free-flowing rivers, the eco system is flourishing and it shows with an abundance of birdlife and fish aplenty, the sights are truly astounding.”

Brown’s chairman and Blackall-Tambo Regional Council Mayor, Andrew Martin, echoed the sentiment, stating rural and regional Queensland experienced a surge in Queenslanders venturing to the region last year, but there was an impressive list of experiences in store for all Australians now that borders are open.

“There’s some outdated perceptions of the outback that it’s all just red dirt and unsealed roads, but this is far from the truth which many Queenslanders have discovered – it’s accessible to all and there’s a plethora of new experiences on offer each year.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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