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Queensland tourism operators want better support as lockdown bites

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It is the tropical tourist paradise at the top of Queensland that has continued to suffer well past the state’s coronavirus lockdown period.

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Tourism employs about 80 per cent of the population at Port Douglas, according to the local industry body, with the area usually attracting visitors from around the country and the world.

After months of pain, operators said they saw a boost in bookings after Queensland’s borders were opened to Victoria and New South Wales last month.

But restrictions imposed in response to the most recent cluster in Sydney’s Northern Beaches has come as another financial hit.

Bruno Bennett, a resort operator and chairman of the Douglas Shire Accommodation Cooperative, said the holiday season was the region’s last hope of recovering some of the losses.

“We’ve just had a horrific year, but right at the moment it is about cancellations,” he said.

“This was our last hope really, just over the Christmas, New Year period early into January.

“It’s really about the vaccine for us now and that’s what we’ll be hanging our hat on but really this past 12 months, we never want to relive again.”

After nine months of domestic uncertainty, and without international visitors, family-run businesses like those of reef tour operator Steve Edmonson, are feeling the pain of the latest New South Wales restrictions.

“It’s obviously a huge impact, we’ve had many, many calls and cancellations today, we have people who are about to leave for the airport an hour later,” he said.

“But for me, the biggest lesson is really what’s going to happen with tourism, when we have this whole pattern continuing for probably the rest of 2021. This is alarming.”

Edmonson would typically take about 20,000 tourists onto the Great Barrier Reef annually, but this year it has been much fewer.

He described the virus as having effectively putting “trade sanctions” on operations like his and said that deserved greater industry-specific help from authorities.

“We’re not actually trying to look for sympathy, we need appropriate support because our markets have been closed through no fault of our own,” he said.

“Tourism is very undervalued, if we were in different industries, it would be a lot easier to have some federal funding towards it.”

He said a local marine tour operator under financial pressure folded last week.

“We’re at a very vulnerable time in the next few months of marine industry, for businesses to change radically and downsizing,” Edmonson said.

“What we need to do to keep the tourism industry alive, [is] provide some lifeline of support, because those businesses are very close to not being very viable.

“If you don’t have a viable business, you don’t have employment, and you won’t have re-employment.

“It’s a very big cost to pay.”

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