Queensland government must review its closed border policy: “you can only hang on for so long”

As Australian states and territories start to ease up on restrictions and set out plans to encourage people to get out and travel, Queensland continues to impose limited intrastate travel rules and its borders remain stubbornly closed.

Queensland's borders were supposed to open on 10 July, now event operators, venues and tourism businesses aren't sure when they can expect interstate visitors and a return to normal.

In the first week of May Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk set out a roadmap for the state’s recovery with a date of open borders by 10 July. At the very least this gave Queensland hospitality operators, event organisers and owners of empty venues an idea of when and how to map out their own hard roads back to business.

Last week she backtracked, stating borders might remain closed until at least September. Chief Health Officer Dr Young, contributed to the uncertainty by adding that even September could be “optimistic.”

Queensland is arguably more reliant on tourism than any other state. In Australia, 8 percent of jobs are tourism-based, but in Queensland its 10 percent of the workforce. While Tasmania is the only state that comes in higher at 17 percent, Queensland’s population is ten times bigger. 

The Gold Coast is heavily reliant on interstate travel and in an ABC news report Destination Gold Coast CEO Annaliese Battista pointed out that the tourism and events industry needs certainty and that the region is “teetering on the edge of collapse.”

“The Premier came out with a very clear road map to easing Queensland restrictions, and in fact a one-page guide that’s been extensively published, and that the sector has taken as being the roadmap to recovery, that clearly states that the 10th of July is D-Day for interstate travel.”

She said, “There are 34,000 hotel rooms on the Gold Coast with four percent occupancy at the moment, it’s heartbreaking.” 

With borders firmly shut, the 150 kilometre limit on travel within the state (with no overnight stays), has denied a precious lifeline to desperate tourism workers and operators in regions like Cairns and Port Douglas

“Cairns has come to a standstill,” said Rosie Douglas General Manager of Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ).

She understands government actions to contain and flatten the Coronavirus curve, but Douglas sees the main issue as being one of certainty.

“We need clarity about when borders are going to be opened up, to give confidence [to organisers] to run their events.” She points out that an Iron Man event and Car Rally are already on the books for September.

Further down the coast, David Ryan, Chair of Visit Sunshine Coast, says “Many of our Sunshine Coast operators have seen revenues fall between 90 percent and 100 percent from March to the current date, and even with increased intrastate travel allowed from 12 June, it won’t be enough to sustain our industry through the traditionally quieter winter period [for the Sunshine Coast region].”

“Normally, winter attracts visitors from the Southern States and New Zealand, and these markets could be effectively closed till September. That will be crippling for many businesses and tourism and hospitality staff.”

“It is an even bigger blow for the Sunshine Coast as we have new runway opening at Sunshine Coast Airport from 13 June, and with borders closed, there is little incentive for direct flights.”

“What the industry needs most of all is certainty. With the State doing an excellent job controlling the virus, and with southern States recording so few cases, we believe borders can be opened much earlier than September. We are hoping the Premier will reconsider.”

At a Federal level, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton is encouraging Queenslanders to challenge its government’s Covid-19 border closures.

“People are right to test that if they think it’s not allowed because it’s affecting peoples’ lives,” he said.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) Chief Executive, Daniel Gschwind prefers to work with government. He said, “the roadmap is still in place and our efforts are directed to a speedier return to business.”

He outlines the two main problems with a September return. “In Queensland, June to September is one the most important periods, particularly for leisure.” And with reference to the fragile state of the operators and workforce, affected by six months of bushfires, followed by nearly three months of next to no business, he adds a simple statement: “You can only hang on for so long.”

The state government recently announced a stimulus package, which includes $50 million for tourism infrastructure. But as Gschwind points out, “Domestic tourism (including business events and travel) generates $54 million each day in Queensland. “No amount of government support can replace the income generated”. 

He stresses this income doesn’t go to some big corporation, “it flows through communities.”

So how does QTIC encourage the state government to review its decision?

“We’re delivering these messages on a daily basis”. He concludes with, “The job was to flatten out the curve and we’ve done that, in fact, it’s [completely] flat.”

The state government announced Queensland’s Ekka public holiday will move from Wednesday 12 August to Friday 14 August. QLD Tourism Minister Kate Jones said that the Ekka has traditionally been the time when the bush comes to the city and this year she wants the city to go to the bush. But people and businesses need an income to travel and more importantly, a venue to visit. If restrictions remain in place for too much longer, there are likely to be a lot less of both.

Event Organisers is a trusted source of meetings, events and tourism industry news, analysis and event coverage.