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Bucking the trend: Why 2021 saw Outback Queensland swamped with tourists

Statewide

Queensland’s tourism awards this weekend will feature 22 nominations from the industry’s ‘outback’ region, an impressive number that reflects the sector’s bumper year, writes Brad Cooper

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While 2021 may well be remembered for masks, lockdowns and vaccine rollouts, for tourism operators in the bush it’s been a record 12 months where huge visitor numbers have injected big dollars into local economies.

After years of droughts, floods and fires, 2021, at least so far, has been more stable on the seasonal front, allowing tourism ventures to capitalise on the holidaying demographic contained to the state due to domestic and international border closures.

Rural and regional Queenslanders are now rallying to keep up the momentum into 2022 with international borders opening, encouraging Australians to continue to explore their own neck of the woods instead of travelling abroad.

Blackall-Tambo Mayor and chair of Outback Queensland Tourism Association Andrew Martin  said the region’s “best tourism season yet” may have been sparked by the pandemic, but good pre-planning had helped stoke interest during the year.

“This was particularly due to strong investment and new infrastructure in the region pre pandemic, which meant travellers could also experience new and reinvigorated attractions such as the Australian Age of Dinosaurs, Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame, and Eromanga Natural History Museum,” he said.

“Boasting experiences on offer for everyone, families and young couples included, Queenslanders began to explore more of their back yard and iconic world-class attractions such as Cooper, Australia’s largest skeletal replica dinosaur which made international headlines this year.”

Georgia Crocker, McKinlay Shire Council tourism coordinator, who oversees the Julia Creek Caravan Park, said 2021 “just blew us out of the water”.

“The shaky start and the interruptions brought about by Covid-19, border closures and lockdowns further afield meant that we had reduced expectations of visitor numbers and enquiries,” she said.

“We were, however, completely wrong. We had a bumper tourist season with unprecedented demand for our portfolio of accommodation and attractions – namely our artesian bathhouses – at the Julia Creek Caravan Park.

“From a small town of just 500 people, this nomination is a testament to the momentum we have been building over the past decade. I think it’s fair to say that we punch above our weight.”

Greg Donovan, managing director of Birdsville’s Big Red Bash, said fortune had indeed smiled on the brave among his team, in a year where the events business was decimated by cancellations and postponements.

“We were very fortunate to be able to hold the Birdsville Big Red Bash in early July this year, and our outstanding event team navigated seemingly insurmountable obstacles to deliver Australia’s first major multi day camping based music festival since Covid hit in 2020,” he said.

“A crowd of around 9500 people had the time of their lives in what was the happiest place in Australia at the time.”

Natalie Flecker, CEO of Mount Isa Rodeo, said the event continued each year to grow and evolve, although Covid forced even newer ways of thinking to hold their audience.

Staged since 1959, it is the largest annual rodeo in the southern hemisphere with an action-packed program of rodeo and non-stop entertainment that attracts up to 30,000 people to the state’s north west.

The celebrations of the event’s 60th anniversary in 2019 bit the dust in 2020 when the event was cancelled, prompting Flecker and her team to create the world’s first virtual rodeo.

“This was an enormous success that introduced us to new audiences and kept our loyal rodeo audiences engaged and entertained,” she said.

“In 2021, we returned to the red dirt of Buchanan Park Arena, and despite border closures and southeast Queensland a declared hot spot, we hosted a massive event, with attendance only slightly shy of our record breaking 2019 figures.

“It was, in fact, the best rodeo competition to date, with an outstanding calibre of competitors and stock.”

With borders set to reopen on December 17, Martin is calling on Australians to continue to hit the roads and adventure to the state’s interior.

“Let’s continue to explore our own backyard, support local, breathe in fresh outback air, and enjoy our region’s country hospitality – because we love having you there and you’ll love being there,” he said.

 

 

 

 

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