Bookings wipeout: Border chaos to cost millions
Punch-drunk Queensland tourism operators say they are losing the "fighting spirit" that has seen them withstand cyclones, floods and bushfires as they face a $250m king hit from the latest border closure.
Less than three weeks after getting up off the canvas when the border reopened following eight months of devastation, the $28bn-a-year tourism industry is back on the ropes.
The Palaszczuk government yesterday slammed shut the border to millions of potential Christmas holiday-makers from Sydney and surrounding areas, sparking mass cancellations.
Gold Coast and far north Queensland operators are facing the biggest hit, losing up to 20 per cent of holiday bookings just as they were looking forward to a bumper Christmas to make up for hundreds of millions of dollars already lost this year during the pandemic.
And the hard border closure threatens to last the school holidays, with the barricades to stay in place until there has been no community transmission in NSW for 28 days.
"It's obviously a devastating blow to be going backwards - worse than being in a bad situation in the first place," Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief Daniel Gschwind said. "When we have a crisis like a cyclone, we can strategise and face it. But with this (COVID), we're fighting an uncertain enemy and we don't know where the next blow is coming from.
"It's making it very difficult to maintain the fighting spirit."
Interstate tourism was worth $10bn to Queensland last year, with a third of visitors from Sydney.
Mr Gschwind said the industry stood to lose "hundreds of millions" as a result of the border closure to residents of greater Sydney. But he said the impact could be far worse if would-be holiday-makers cancelled because of ongoing uncertainty over borders.
"The tourism industry is famously resilient but the climate of fear and uncertainty is really taking its toll, both financially and emotionally," he said.
"The stop-start scenario is incredibly costly in every sense of the word and we probably won't know the full extent of the damage until after Christmas when operators go to chase business. They won't be able to because consumer confidence across Australia is just so badly trashed as far as travel is concerned."
Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said the border closure would not be reviewed before January 8 and greater Sydney and the city's Northern Beaches region would need to mark 28 days since an unlinked community case.
Ms D'Ath also warned that more hotspots could be declared, locking out more potential tourists from NSW.
Acting Tourism Minister Scott Stewart urged Sydneysiders to cancel their Queensland holidays quickly so other people could snap up vacancies.
"Swift cancellations … will mean those who have missed out will be able to secure bookings and accommodation providers are less likely to be left out of pocket," he said.
There was chaos at the borders yesterday, with Gold Coast Police Chief Superintendent Mark Wheeler revealing about 80 people had already been turned back by 2pm after the hotspot declaration came into force at 1am.
Supt Wheeler said there were traffic jams stretching up to 10km on the M1 as Queenslanders rushed to return before 1am today. As of that time, any Queenslanders who are returning following a visit to greater Sydney will be forced into hotel quarantine.
Australian Resident Accommodation Managers Association chief executive Trevor Rawnsley, whose organisation represents holiday resort managers, said interstate tourism-dependent destinations such as the Gold Coast and north Queensland were bracing for "mass cancellations". "Just when we thought that we could relax and have a jolly Christmas, this happens," he said.
Mr Rawnsley said the border closure could encourage more Queenslanders to holiday at home. "But we're running out of Queenslanders (to help fill the gap)," he said.
Joel Peterson, whose family manages the Rocks Resort at Currumbin Beach, said cancellations were rolling in.
"It's very disappointing after the horror year the tourism industry has had - everyone was looking at being full over Christmas," he said.
Accommodation Association of Australia chief Dean Long said destinations such as the Gold Coast and far north Queensland, which relied heavily on NSW tourists, stood to lose 10 to 20 per cent of Christmas bookings. He said areas like the Sunshine Coast would suffer minimal damage as they were filled with Queensland holiday-makers over Christmas.
Mr Long slammed the "patchwork" approach to state border closures, saying it was a "confidence killer".
His comments were echoed by Australian Federation of Travel Agents chairman Tom Manwaring, who said Queensland holiday cancellations were at "dramatic" levels.
"The frustrating thing for my 40,000 people (agents) and 4000 businesses is that we've already had 10 months of cancellations and refunds - that's all we've been doing," he said.
"This will put us back another six months, minimum."
Mr Manwaring also hit out at border closures, saying there needed to be a "consistent, commonsense, national approach" to outbreaks.
"To make overnight changes when people are already on aeroplanes and halfway to their holiday destinations is just not acceptable," he said.
Mr Manwaring said rapid COVID testing at Australian airports had been "talked about for months" but nothing had been done.
He said this, together with social distancing and compulsory face masks, could combat the spread of COVID without having to shut borders every time there was an outbreak.
"Surely we can have a commonsense solution," he said.
"The answer is not to say 'no more travel'."
Originally published as Bookings wipeout: Border chaos to cost millions