‘Real concern’ businesses may fold despite bumper holidays
The shine is finally starting to return to Queensland's COVID-blackened tourism industry, with operators revelling in their best trading since the pandemic began.
A bumper school holidays, which ended with a sun-soaked long weekend, has given a huge shot in the arm to an industry that was bleeding an estimated $17 million a day at the height of the virus crisis.
Holiday-makers and day-trippers packed the Gold and Sunshine coasts, buoying hopes among long-suffering tourism operators that the worst could be behind them as Queensland readies to reopen the border to NSW next month.
Operators in the Whitsundays, North Queensland and outback also reported booming business.
But the industry is warning that the border must reopen, and restrictions ease further, if many businesses are to survive.
Destination Gold Coast chairman Paul Donovan said the Glitter Strip was "pumping" over the long weekend while Visit Sunshine Coast interim CEO Craig Davidson said activity was "frenetic".
Dreamworld chief operating officer Greg Yong said the Gold Coast theme park had recorded one of its best September school holiday periods "in years".
He said the loss of international and interstate visitors had been compensated by a huge influx of Gold Coast locals and southeast Queenslanders who had snapped up heavily-discounted family passes when the park reopened last month.
"It's been flat out for us - certainly much better than we anticipated and ahead of September last year," he said.
Village Theme Parks marketing boss Renee Soutar said Sea World, Movie World and Wet 'n' Wild had recorded their best attendances since they reopened in June and July, with a "very strong" school holidays.
She said new attractions and the reopening of the border to northern NSW last week was also driving big crowds.
"The theme parks are one of the key attraction drivers to the Gold Coast and they have a major flow-on effect to hotels, restaurants and smaller entertainment providers, so it's really wonderful to see," she said.
Nathan Reynolds, restaurant manager of Season on Hastings Street in Noosa, said the restaurant had been nearly booked out in its busiest weekend since the pandemic started.
"For us it was fantastic, we had a great weekend and it was incredibly busy," he said.
"I think people are just happy to be out and about and not feeling so restricted.
"We benefited from the easing of restrictions with outside dining, so we were able to get in a couple of extra tables."
Mr Donovan said there were "people everywhere" across the Gold Coast over the long weekend as a "relatively successful" school holidays came to an end.
"I was out dining with family and the restaurants were packed - Broadbeach was pumping, Tedder Ave (Main Beach) was pumping," he said.
"It's given us a sense of optimism and some hope that we're finally on the way back, but there's still a long way to go."
Mr Davidson said that even with the borders closed to Victoria and most of NSW, holiday spots from Caloundra to Rainbow Bay were operating at capacity.
"It was a frenetic weekend on the Sunshine Coast," he said.
"The combination of the long weekend, school holidays and perfect weather made for a weekend of 'no vacancies' across the accommodation spectrum - from luxury hotels through to camping grounds
"Most of our visitors came from within the 300km drive market, but we've also had good support from the Cairns and Adelaide markets as a result of new or returning direct air services."
But Mr Davidson said more midweek business would be crucial after the holidays to fill resorts, with operators sweating on the border reopening.
Hilton Surfers Paradise Hotel general manager Fiona Pryde agreed, saying the hotel was filling up on weekends but struggling midweek due to the border closure.
Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said the region had enjoyed its busiest period since the pandemic began and it was "uplifting to once again feel a buzz through the Whitsundays".
However, Ms Wheeler said there was "real concern" for post-holiday bookings and restrictions needed to ease further or some businesses may not survive.
Tropical Coast Tourism executive Patrick Bluett said local accommodation operators had experienced 90 per cent-plus occupancies over the holidays, with cafes, restaurants and attractions enjoying bumper trade.
But he said the tropical north traditionally went into decline over summer and Aussies would need to be encouraged to try a holiday in the region in the warmer months.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind, who visited Barcaldine last week, said outback tourism was booming and other parts of the state including the Gold and Sunshine coasts had experienced a "very good" school holidays.
"But let's not kid ourselves, the industry has lost an enormous amount of business during the pandemic and there is a lot of ground to make up," he said.
Paradise Resort Gold Coast general manager David Brook said the newly renovated hotel was close to full over the weekend and interstate bookings were starting to roll in on the back of the potential border reopening.
Originally published as 'Real concern' businesses may fold despite bumper holidays