Interview – Daniel Gschwind – Queensland opens up

Over the past two years Daniel Gschwind (CEO Queensland Tourism Industry Council) has become the ‘go to’ source for journalists after statistics and quotes about the state of tourism in Queensland, and his face has become a familiar sight on TV screens

In normal times over 9% (one in eleven) of Queensland’s workforce is employed in tourism compared to Australia’s national average of 7.7%. The state is more dependent on having thriving tourism, events and hospitality sectors than any other state. Daniel Gschwind is Chief Executive at Queensland Tourism Industry Council and as he has pointed out to EventOrganisers in a previous interview, unlike other industries like mining for example, nearly all revenue generated through tourism and events flows back to local communities, such as owner run coffee shops, restaurants, and local experiences.

Over the past two years Daniel Gschwind has become the ‘go to’ source for journalists chasing statistics and quotes about the state of tourism in Queensland, and his face has become a familiar sight on TV screens. He’s also been busy advocating to government on behalf of an industry crippled by COVID travel restrictions and lockdowns, that would normally provide an income for 234,000 people. As Queensland finally begins to fully open its borders from today (13 December 2021), he talks with EventOrganisers about the implications of the conditions of entry to the state and the pathway to recovery for Queensland’s tourism and events operators.

‘Catastrophic effects for events’

Before the public announcements were made about opening the border, were any assurances given that it is the intention for the accompanying restrictions, such as vaccine mandates, to be temporary?

“Certainly, that’s our understanding. The vaccine mandate will be implemented on the 17th December for many of our staff and customers. We absolutely anticipate this to a temporary measure to protect us and limit any spread of the virus. And also I suspect, to drive up the vaccination rates.”

“Like in New South Wales where the mandate has ended, we hope that the 90% vaccination threshold in Queensland will at the very least, trigger a review of any vaccine mandate, because at 90% the community protection should be sufficient, as we understand it. For example, we’ve seen the mask mandate disappear in Queensland and capacity restrictions lifted in various circumstances. So yes, we hope to live free and uncontained very soon.”

‘All of us are ready to throw off all shackles’

“We are privileged in Queensland to have been contained at home for very short periods of time compared to other parts of Australia and the world so, we’ve been very lucky. but I think all of us are ready to throw off all our shackles and get used to what we enjoy doing, which is what our tourism and events industries depend on. People being able to get about and enjoy events, places and destinations without having a whole catalogue of rules in mind and barriers placed in front of them. It has been taxing”

If traveling into Queensland by road from or through a designated hotspot, all visitors will need to be fully vaccinated, have a border pass, a PCR test within 72 hours of traveling, and take a further PCR test five days into their visit. Most arrivals by road come through Tweedshire in New South Wales, which is a hotspot. This will inevitably have an impact on visitor numbers, especially families. Do you or your members have any ideas on the potential loss of business, or are you just grateful for open borders, albeit with conditions?

“if it’s the price we have to pay to be opening up our borders, then that’s we’ll do. You know, mandates aren’t the greatest things – the additional PCR test, its certainly an inconvenience but it’s the price we have to pay to get moving and hopefully it will be a temporary measure.”

How temporary?

Maybe when we get to 90% vaccinated, which is a realistic prospect that I never believed would be possible a few months ago. We’re now at 88% first dose in Queensland, so that gives me confidence that we will exceed the 90% requirement in January and hopefully that will be the end of some of those requirements.

What about Rapid Antigen tests instead of PCR tests? A PCR test takes 24 hours to process and is invasive, compared to a Rapid Antigen that takes just minutes to get the result and is less invasive.

“I can tell you with absolute certainty the Rapid Antigen test is not something that the government is willing to entertain at this point. They [Queensland government] are categorically against it because Queensland has low infection rates, so they want to detect every infection and the flow test isn’t as accurate as a PCR test.” [Gschwind isn’t ‘necessarily in agreement with this line of logic from the Queensland government.] “it’s a massive inconvenience at the very least [but] that is what the deal is”.

Has Queensland Tourism Industry Council advocated for the use of Rapid Anitgen tests?

“We have certainly advocated for that, but the response from the government has been absolutely categorical that they are not going down that path. They will insist on a PCR test to open the borders.”

What legacy do you think the past two years leave us with?

“For our industry – and I include the events industry – this has been a financial struggle but also an emotional struggle on all sorts of levels. People worrying about their own future and the future of their own staff – these things are real and will have consequences playing our minds and consumers minds for a long time. And this rebuilding of personal and community confidence, is a big task ahead of us. I don’t know how young people will come out of this, maybe more resilient but it will leave a mark of some kind on all of us.”

“It’s possibly been the biggest crisis in our lifetime and it will leave a long legacy. Hopefully, there will be some positive things coming out of this. COVID separated us – ripped up us apart as a global community, but it also perhaps made us pause and made think about what really matters in our lives. And perhaps made us value our connection to friends, family and the rest of the world. Maybe that will give us a good base to build our future?”.