What Brisbane’s lockdown has done to Cairns tourism
AS Queensland anxiously awaits the state government's next move on the Brisbane lockdown on Monday, Far North tourism operators are worried about the effect on travellers' confidence.
Boutique Collection owner Alex Whyte said Far North hotel operators were crying out for an end to the uncertainty over COVID hot spots.
"Whenever this happens it always comes out of left field and there's no time for businesses to plan around it," he said.
"When the Brisbane situation started, we were getting calls from 8am about booking cancellations, including from people in South Australia who were concerned about travelling through Brisbane."
Mr Whyte said businesses currently had no choice but to grit their teeth and roll with the punches.
"We're in a cyclone season, cashflow is going to dry up, and all we want to do is welcome tourists and make them feel good," he said.
"But as long as lockdowns continue, albeit for the right reasons, we can't make any plans."
Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said travellers' uncertain about planning a trip to Far North Queensland should remain hopeful over the current arrangements.
"The travel industry has responded with cancellation policies to give customers more confidence," he said.
"What we saw over Christmas and New Year was really strong numbers out of Queensland, and a strong demand from Sydney, Melbourne and even Perth.
"We know that Australians want to come to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. As long as we have safe travel arrangements in place, we can deliver."
Mr Whyte said they were offering cancelling guests the chance to reserve their deposit for twelve months, giving them time to plan a later booking without spending extra.
For those that didn't want to do that, they would offer refunds.
"It's not normally our policy, but in situations like this, we feel obliged to," he said.
"Fortunately, JobKeeper has helped us cover those costs by allowing us to pay our staff members when a cancellation gets made."
Mr Olsen said he hoped the government would announce an extension of JobKeeper from March until international borders reopen.
City Terraces Holiday Apartments managers Lyn and Will Melville-Rea are looking at an almost blank slate of bookings for the coming weeks, after a New Year's period that was down 40 per cent from last year.
"What we've got are long-stay nurses coming in and a couple of corporate bookings, but what we don't have are tourists," Mr Melville-Rea said.
"It's the uncertainty that's worrying everyone - Cairns is vulnerable in that people have to fly to get here, and if we lose Brisbane and the major cities, it will have a severe knock-on effect."
The couple get a big chunk of their occupancy from agency health workers, especially during the tourism off-season.
"This time last year, we ended up with a lot of nurses, but lost a lot of Chinese bookings because the pandemic had just started to stir up," Mr Melville-Rea said.
"Our rooms were just packed with nurse contracts and then bang, the pandemic hit and we lost all our nurses.
"We only had a few nurses and corporate bookings to get by, then we didn't start to recover until August and September, which were much better for us because we started to get the Sydney people.
"Then on December 30 we had seven cancellations, which we were able to re-book with locals."
Brinsmead's Cool Waters Holiday Park manager Sarah Gill said they were lucky to have had the lockdown hit after Christmas and New Year.
"We haven't had any cancellations as yet, but we are concerned about those that were here over the last week or two," she said.
"We were pretty booked out over Christmas, we had an influx of people from New South Wales and Victoria.
"They need to do what they need to do. I'd rather be safe than have to close again."
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said thousands of tourism businesses had their "fingers crossed" the lockdown would be lifted.
"We're all suffering … it's just the reality that more and more of those support measures from the federal government are gradually disappearing," he said.
"It's a great deal of uncertainty ahead of us and accumulating worries for the industry."
Originally published as What Brisbane's lockdown has done to Cairns tourism