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Let the good times roll

Dicky Beach, Caloundra

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Let the good times roll

With the Queensland government announcing a roadmap to reopening our borders, local tourism operators are breathing a sigh of relief, after the worst two years many of them have ever experienced in business.

Nationally and internationally, much of the community sentiment is clear: “It’s time.” And, with Queensland’s COVID roadmap to opening our borders revealed last week, the public is now preparing to transition into what will be our new normal.

The transition plan was announced on Monday, October 18 with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palszczuk sharing the planned timeline – all contingent on vaccination rates hitting set target dates.

Ms Palaszcuk’s plan aims to open up Queensland’s borders to fully vaccinated people from interstate COVID-19 hotspots before Christmas. But first, we must reach the first step – 70 per cent of Queenslanders must be fully vaccinated by November 19.

By that date, people in hotspots will be able to travel to Queensland by air if they are fully vaccinated and have tested negative for COVID in the past 72 hours.

They will need to home quarantine for 14 days. More freedoms for travellers into Queensland will come into effect when the state’s population is 80 per cent fully vaccinated, expected to happen by December 17.

That includes allowing fully vaccinated people to come by road, and travellers being able to avoid any quarantine. “The faster we are vaccinated, the faster these deadlines will be achieved,” the premier said.

“It means that some of these dates may come forward if we get the vaccination rates up.

“So, if we reach 70 per cent sooner than November 19, we will ease the restrictions sooner.”

She says the roadmap dates should create a “sense of urgency” around people getting the jab.

Tourism Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel has welcomed the timing of the announcement and says it has finally given us clarity on how the Sunshine Coast’s tourism industry can move ahead.

“Some hotels have up to 70 per cent of their inventory booked by interstate visitors over the Christmas period, but until the announcement, there was no certainty that these guests could get to the Sunshine Coast to take up their bookings,” he says. “So, there is a lot of relief and both customers and our industry can plan for the Christmas period.

“With the roadmap in place, industry will be gearing up for the busy Christmas period and looking for strong holiday season bookings to recoup the losses from the past 18 months.

“The announcement will instil much-needed confidence in the region’s tourism sector and let us all focus on doing what we do best, and that is delivering a world-class experience to our visitors.”

 

What accommodation owners/operators say:

The owner/director of Caloundra Holiday Centre, Tracey Harris, is breathing a sigh of relief after the announcement. Although all of the holiday rental accommodation options she promotes via her business are fully booked for the upcoming festive season, it’s the certainty of future bookings that she is craving. She believes the announcement has given hope for her desired outcome.

“At last, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Ms Harris says.

Fortunately, she is pleased to say support from the drive market has seen her beds filled to capacity.

“We have been booked for the Christmas/New Year period since February.  About 90 per cent of these bookings come from the drive market and about 10 per cent are southerners.”

Within an hour of the Premier’s announcement, Ms Harris says her phones were ringing hot with booking requests, particularly those from southerners who were looking towards coming up next winter.

Landmark Resort Mooloolaba general manager Brett Thompson hails the government’s roadmap out of COVID as a “step in the right direction”.

While he says there are still some bookings available for the Christmas/New Year period, he reports the majority of bookings have also come from the drive market. He notes that it is families who have made earlier bookings.

“The family accommodation is filled, but there are gaps in the one-bedroom and studio bookings,” he says.

At this point, he says December and January are 30 per cent down on this time last year. After the announcement, he predicts an ‘avalanche’ of bookings coming from interstate.

 “They (the southerners) are desperate to get out and enjoy a Queensland holiday.”

In the past, many of these potential holidaymakers have been affected by lockdown, making bookings only to find their bookings having to be cancelled.

“We have lost $2.5 million worth of bookings in the last 18 months – and then there’s the administration cost with cancellations,” he says.

However, he is pleased to say he can still describe tourism bookings are ‘buoyant’. “September and October were good, in particular October proved to be unexpectedly good.”

In the Coolum area, owner/director of The Point Coolum and President of Coolum Business and Tourism association, Mark Cameron says the roadmap gives clarity around opening up.

Mr Cameron explains how lockdown disrupted the regular rhythm of accommodation bookings: “We would usually have a booking window of 30 days or more ahead. “Now people book today for tomorrow and that makes it hard to plan ahead with staffing.”

He says it is irrelevant whether or not he agrees with the way the government has mapped the way out of border restrictions and feels the present plan is  “leaving plenty of wriggle room – it’s not complete yet”.

Nevertheless, similar to other operators, he is pleased the industry now has something to work with.

“I’m just pleased there is a defined plan on the ground and we can make decisions around that.”

 

Coast home to some of Queensland’s best

From markets to hinterland tours, and valley train experiences, our region’s tourism offering is second to none. No wonder tourists love us!

Twenty-one Sunshine Coast tourism operators have been announced as nominees in the 2021 Queensland Tourism Awards, recognising their outstanding performance in the most challenging of conditions. Among the nominees are NightQuarter/Malt Shovel Taphouse, the Original Eumundi Markets, Mary Valley Rattler, Maleny Botanic Gardens & Bird World, Coast to Hinterland Tours, Tasty Tours and The Ginger Factory. Visit Sunshine Coast CEO, Matt Stoeckel, says the diversity of the operators highlights the depth of the region’s tourism quality. “Many showcase our incredible marine life, while others celebrate the richness of the hinterland experience and our nature-based attractions. It is also pleasing to see that food-based tourism businesses… are competing for awards. The region’s outstanding produce and restaurants are a major drawcard for attracting discerning travellers. It’s been a tough year, so to be nominated for one of these awards means they have gone over and above to provide the best possible service and experience.” Winners will be announced on November 12.

 

Gail Forrer, Writer

In January 2020, we were told the coronavirus had reached our shores. The news changed the world as we know it. Since then, we have experienced lockdowns and meltdowns, we have seen protestors storm city streets to express their outrage at government restrictions.  We have become used to wearing face masks and taking a COVID test for anything that resembles a sore throat or runny nose.

Certainly, COVID affected some people more than others. As Queenslanders, we have been fortunate in our low infection numbers and in comparison, minimal lockdowns. But we have not been spared everything and on a  personal level, just about everyone has their own travel story of woe. The ones where an unexpected COVID lockdown grounded you, interfered with your plans, cut you short and left you stranded.  COVID messes with your head and
your plans.

On an industry level, the uncertainty has wreaked havoc. Although Sunshine Coast tourism has been protected via the drive market and various long-term booking from interstate sporting groups,  it has still suffered. Accommodation operators together with associated businesses including entertainment and hospitality enterprises have borne enormous financial burdens. So, on October 18, when the Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles flagged potential changes to restrictions to entry into Queensland, albeit, dependant upon  vaccination rates and their timing – there was a collective sigh of relief.

After a scorching year of cancellations, there are no celebrations, just a quietly cautious self-protective tone of hesitancy in the operators’ responses.

“Never”, says Ms Tracey Harris, “have I experienced anything like this in the 35 years I have owned Caloundra Holiday Centre.

“I went through the GFC and many other things – but nothing like this.”

It will probably be some time until the Sunshine Coast Airport website can dismiss its advice to monitor the airline website for any updates to travel to and from the airport.

But Landmark general manager has it right when he says: “It’s a start.”

Fingers crossed, this is the third and final chapter in the dark story of COVID.

 

DID YOU KNOW?

INTERSTATE

“Interstate travel accounted for 1.1 million visitors to the Sunshine Coast annually prior to COVID, which represents over 25 per cent of our total visitation. Interstate trips usually involve longer stays and higher yields, so it is an essential component of the region’s tourism profile.

INTERNATIONAL

“The Sunshine Coast is a really popular market with the Kiwis, and we eagerly await the return of the New Zealand market. Our NZ market alone is worth more than $110 million per annum to our industry and its return just can’t come soon enough for our industry.”

Matt Stoekel, CEO, Tourism Sunshine Coast

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