Queensland tourism businesses are anxiously waiting for borders to reopen as Delta outbreaks in multiple cities and an ongoing international travel ban threaten to keep tourists away for another summer.
Recent announcements by the Prime Minister and Queensland Premier have revealed it could be some time before Australians can freely enter Queensland and international travellers are allowed in the country, sparking concern among small business owners reliant on these flows of tourists.
Roy West, director of the sailing adventure business Explore Whitsundays, says bookings for the new-year period are more than 80% down compared to pre-pandemic levels.
“Right now we’re probably holding 15% to 20% of what we would normally be holding, and half of those people are very concerned as to whether or not they’ll actually be able to travel,” West tells SmartCompany.
To encourage travellers to book holidays, West believes the Queensland government should release a clear roadmap including dates when travellers can enter the state.
“We don’t have that, the consumer doesn’t have that, and nobody can make plans,” he says.
West says the government’s unclear messaging about the state border has made staffing extremely challenging because it’s difficult to guarantee future work.
“To look a staff member in the eye and say I’ve got work for you next month is a very hard conversation right now,” he says.
Earlier this week, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the state’s border would “not necessarily” reopen when the state’s vaccination rate hits 80%.
Her comments show Queensland’s approach to reopening deviates from the federal government’s National Plan, which recommends for travel to resume when 80% of the population is vaccinated.
To make matters worse for tourism operators, international tourism isn’t expected to pick up until sometime next year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday that international travel for incoming tourists won’t restart until 2022 because citizens, permanent residents and international students will be given priority to enter the country.
“We’ll get to international visitors I believe next year. The priority is Australians, we are ready for takeoff,” Morrison told Sunrise hosts.
Renae Kunda, owner of Cape York Motorcycle Adventures, says her business has lost two years of revenue due to ongoing border closures, equating to about $1,050,000 in 2021.
When the pandemic began, Cape York Motorcycle Adventures rolled its 2020 bookings to 2021 and invested in a second set of equipment in preparation for the busy year.
But when borders closed again due to Delta outbreaks in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, she had to reorganise her bookings a second time.
“Do we reinvest again for 2022? I need a solid time frame for borders to be open so that I can make these decisions,” Kunda tells SmartCompany.
Tourism makes up a large part of Queensland’s economy and lengthy border restrictions have virtually wiped out tourism trade over recent months.
While some business support has been available, including the Marine Tourism Grants and COVID-19 business support grants, most of the funding was aimed at businesses that suffered during snap lockdowns within Queensland.