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All flights lead to Cairns, but domestic tourism still faces more big hurdles

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Despite a surge in Queensland, domestic tourism is facing some big hurdles as outside economic factors weigh heavily of decisions to travel.

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A report from Austrade said the prospect of much higher unemployment and reduced incomes meant the recovery for domestic holiday travel may be more subdued.

“This would see domestic trips becoming shorter and less frequent with a greater focus on lower-cost options,” the report said.

“Holiday travel will still remain highly seasonal, underpinned by strong school holiday demand. With Australia’s ski fields and tropical destinations entering their peak season in winter the timing of interstate border reopenings will be critical.”

It said there were usually more than 11 million outbound trips annually by Australians.

“This means that many will hold out for an overseas experience if they think the option will arise soon,” Austrade said.

“While interstate borders remain closed and flights are limited, regional centres within driving distance of cities will recover first. As flights return and borders reopen, this recovery will extend to more far-flung regional destinations and interstate capitals.

“Over the longer term, however, capital cities may feel the loss of international travel far more than other parts of the country.”

The tourism industry in Cairns appears to be bouncing back. The Far North Queensland city is now the number one region in Australia for Google travel searches.

The Cairns to Brisbane return route is also Australia’s busiest air link at present, a far cry from several months ago, when flights to the heavily tourism-dependent region all but stopped in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Cairns Airport’s head of aviation Garry Porter said the airport was seeing up to 90 flights per week, mainly from Brisbane, through low-cost carriers such as Jetstar.

“It’s exciting that we’re making the most of a terrible situation, in that Cairns has now become [one of] the busiest airports in Australia,” Mr Porter said.

“We normally sit in the top 10 to 15, so this is great, especially for the economy.”

He said the Brisbane-to-Townsville and Brisbane-to-Mackay routes were now the second and third busiest routes nationally.

Traditionally, Sydney Airport is the country’s busiest airport, followed by Melbourne.

Mr Porter said Cairns was seeing about 100,000 people arrive at the airport each month.

However, normally the figure is closer to 450,000.

Austrade said cruise companies were now looking to restore their reputation and abate consumer concerns by quickly adapting to changing health and safety requirements, and social distancing measures which may result in a decline in passenger capacity and an increase in prices, with higher prices especially notable on the larger lines commonly found in the Australasia region.

“In this more costly environment, families, in particular, will find cruise travel is no longer an affordable option.,” the report said.

“Recovery of the cruise industry over the short term will, therefore, rely on persuading some of the two million older Australians who would otherwise be holidaying overseas to consider this type of travel. Given the greater risk of illness among this cohort, this will require even more stringent health and safety protocols.”

 

AFL games ‘likely to drive demand’

Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said Cairns had become the number one region in Australia for Google travel searches.

“Bookings have picked up for some properties, with Fitzroy Island Resort reporting strong forward bookings after losing a lot of business when the New South Wales border closed,” Mr Olsen said.

“Hotels are experiencing better midweek vacancies.

“They’re reporting a younger demographic is enjoying getaways and mini-breaks.”

Mr Porter said more flights from interstate would soon be returning, including the Cairns to Darwin route and Cairns to Adelaide.

“We’re about to come back into school holidays, so we’ll naturally see an influx there,” Mr Porter said.

“The AFL games are also likely to drive demand, too.”

The Fremantle Dockers and the Sydney Swans will be based in Cairns from next month with several matches to be played at Cazaly’s Stadium.

– additional reporting ABC / Kristy Sexton-McGrath

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