The reopening of Queensland’s border is welcome news for small businesses but access to staff and uncertainty over the Omicron variant continue to dampen a travel resurgence.
After five months of closures, Queensland’s borders reopened at 1am today, allowing fully vaccinated visitors to enter the state without having to quarantine.
There are, however, some entry requirements that travellers must follow, including a permit process and COVID-19 testing prior to and during travel for visitors arriving from hotspot zones.
For Vivienne Stefanutti, owner of Daintree Wilderness Lodge, bookings at her ecotourism business in Far North Queensland have slightly increased since the premier announced the reopening of borders, but reservations haven’t been “crazy”.
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“We have definitely had more bookings for the December and January period, but not a crazy amount like we had in the middle of the year,” Stefanutti says.
Stefanutti has owned and operated the Daintree Wilderness Lodge since 2018, which includes seven cabins that can hold up to about 20 people and a restaurant.
The small business is situated in the Fan Palm gully of the Daintree Rainforest and employs four staff.
Stefanutti says trading through the pandemic and amid border restrictions has been a “struggle”, resulting in significantly lower levels of trade and a critical shortage of workers.
“Being in a remote area, it’s hard enough getting staff without foreign help. So, we’re fighting for the same staff in our little community,” she says.
It’s difficult to compare exactly how much lower reservations are tracking compared to pre-pandemic levels, Stefanutti says, because the business was affected by bushfires in 2019-2020 and flooding in 2018-2019.
“I don’t really know what normal bookings are like,” she says.
Queensland to live with COVID-19
Commenting on the reopening of the border, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk thanked residents for adhering to restrictions, noting that “businesses have been able to function” as a result of the state’s COVID-19 rules.
Palaszczuk has not ruled out the possibility of tightening restrictions again if COVID-19 outbreaks occur in the future, saying Queensland will live with COVID-19 on its own terms.
“We must continue to protect the freedoms Queensland has enjoyed throughout the pandemic and the best way to do that is to continue getting vaccinated,” she said.
“We will live with COVID — but on our terms,” she added.
In the Daintree Rainforest, Stefanutti says there’s still a lot of uncertainty about future COVID-19 outbreaks and whether the border will close and lockdowns reinforced.
“Moving forward, we’ll just have to see what happens next with regards to vaccinations, how much omicron spreads, and how that’s all going to affect our lodge,” Stefanutti says.
“We haven’t had many COVID-19 cases in Far North Queensland, so to now think that there potentially could be positive cases in a small town like ours, is going to knock a lot of businesses around.”
According to the Tourism and Transport Forum, the national tourism industry has lost more than $21 billion in spending over the last four school holidays, so the reopening of the border today will help Queensland avoid more damage over Christmas.
Margy Osmond, chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, said there are positive signs that the omicron variant “will not have a serious impact on our health due to the high rates of vaccination now achieved across Australia”.
“We all know that Queensland is a critical Australian tourism state, but it is important not only to tourism businesses and employees within the state, but to businesses large and small right across the country,” Osmond said.
“Our industry has long been known for being resilient, positive and future focused and we are very much looking forward to a brighter 2022.”