BOOKING BOOM: How tourism businesses are bouncing back
IN A YEAR of extremes, Hervey Bay's embattled tourism industry is eyeing off a major comeback despite a freak fire which continues to rage on one of the region's biggest drawcards.
With accommodation booked out across the Coast, the Chronicle spoke with some familiar faces in the business world ahead of a Christmas Holidays like no other.
At the Akama Resort, front desk staffer Dana Baggett said the late-year booking success had offset a horror start to 2020.
She said the Urangan resort had experienced a $150,000 loss in trade but was now consistently busy with 80 per cent occupancy.
Ms Baggett said tourists coming to the Akama hotel were mainly Queenslanders travelling from the southeast or as far north as Rockhampton as those locations were within a four-hour driving radius of Hervey Bay.
"October to November was extremely busy, many more bookings than we expected," she said
"Hopefully we can continue on like this, see the end of COVID, see international travel return and more people come from interstate."
When asked about the impact of the Fraser Island fire on bookings, Ms Baggett said it had so far been minor with only three cancellations.
Riviera Resort Manager Ann Glasson said since reopening, business had been amazing, owing to the support from Queensland tourists.
"We're at 90 per cent capacity across our 25 rooms, we're booked out until late year."
She too reported no obvious impact from the Fraser Island bushfire saying that while some had asked about it, she had just been reassuring them that Hervey Bay was safe to visit.
While Ms Glasson hadn't seen many interstate bookings so far, she was confident that as people began to travel more freely, they would come to the Riviera and Hervey Bay.
Dean Pritchard manages the Grange Resort, and like other accommodation in Hervey Bay, Grange has experienced better bookings over the holiday season.
"Of course like everybody in the Bay we suffered with cancellations but since the borders opened on July 10 we have been doing OK … our Christmas New Year bookings are probably better than the last few years."
Regarding the Fraser Island fires, Mr Pritchard's comment's mirrored other accommodation operators and said he did not believe the fires deterred visitors from the region.
"I don't think it has affected us too much, we have had one cancellation."
Business success isn't just limited to accommodation providers, with marine tour operators sharing in the end-of-year boom.
Peter Lynch of Blue Dolphin Marine Tours said despite the impact of the COVID crisis, the Hervey Bay whale watching season exceeded expectations.
Outside of whale season, Blue Dolphin operates sunset cruises and private charters and this year the business has been flat out, receiving many bookings.
"Over the next two weeks we're hosting tour groups every night … I can't thank local support enough."
Blue Dolphin also hadn't received many interstate bookings, but Mr Lynch expected such bookings to increase in 2021.
"We're cautiously optimistic about the future and hope local and Australian support continues."
The Fraser Island fire had not yet affected the business, but Mr Lynch was concerned tourists would start to think negatively of the area if the blaze continued.
In Torquay, Larry Burch operates Fraserjet from his Esplanade cafe Aquavue.
Here, locals and visitors can hire jet skis, paddle boards, kayaks and book fishing charters.
Mr Birch said things had picked up well for the watercraft rental business as border restrictions eased and a number of forward bookings for the holiday season had been received.
He believed the Fraser Island fire may have overlooked benefits for the tourism industry, explaining visitors would eventually return to the island to see new greenery appearing.
"Barring another outbreak of the virus, 2021 is looking pretty good," he said