Queensland tourism body says 650 operators in Cairns “are hanging by a thread”

Cairns Travel Adventure Group Raging Thunder tour bus. Source: Supplied.

A Queensland tourism association says 650 tourism operators in Cairns are on the brink of collapse as a three-day coronavirus lockdown compounds the effects of reduced domestic travel.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) is calling for urgent business support after Cairns and Yarrabah entered a three-day coronavirus lockdown on Monday.

“We estimate 650 businesses are hanging by a thread and may not have the cash flow to recover from 18 months without normal trading,” Ken Chapman, TTNQ chair said.

“We had JobKeeper last year and we need something like that again. There are thousands of jobs on the line.” 

But the current lockdown is the latest of a series of challenges that tourism operators in the region are facing.

Due to recent outbreaks of the Delta strain of COVID-19 across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, lockdowns have significantly reduced the number of domestic travellers coming to northern Queensland.

Roderic Rees, owner of Cairns Adventure Group, says travellers from Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide make up 80% of his market.

“Earlier this week, before we had our snap lockdown here in Cairns, we had no customers anyway,” Rees tells SmartCompany.

There are six businesses operating as part of Cairns Adventure Group, including white water rafting, bus tours through Cape Tribulation and Atherton Tablelands, and river tubing for families.

Due to turbulent trading levels, Cairns Adventure Group has had between 50 and 70 staff employed over the last few months with the majority of them casual or part time.

Rees says while he has not received any direct business support this year, financial support is now crucial for many businesses.

“A lot of people in the tourism industry live week-to-week so they don’t have a huge safety net,” he says.

Since JobKeeper expired in March, Rees says there have been months where his turnover declined more than 80% compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“We’ve had some really good periods but obviously when there are lockdowns, we’ve been down as much as 80% to 90%,” he says.

Rees says to help businesses like his survive, any government support package must include cashflow support and a wage subsidy.

The industry has faced a workforce shortage which the state government tried to address through its ‘Work in Paradise’ campaign.

But Rees says after spending May and June scaling up his workforce and training new staff, it will be difficult to keep them employed if there’s no work for them to do.

“We’ve been decimated on and off through the last 18 months, so we don’t have any good cash reverses to fight through what we’re going through right now,” he says.

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