Far North Queensland tourism not bouncing back, school holiday numbers worse than expected

© Provided by ABC Business Green Island is a well-known holiday destination and sits just off Cairns in the Great Barrier Reef. (Supplied: Naomi Brookfield, file photo)

The crowds are nowhere to be seen in Far North Queensland, devastating tourism operators who have been pinning their hopes on the September school holidays to rescue their struggling industry.

The situation is so dire, Green Island off Cairns has closed down its resort and stood down staff temporarily.

For Andrea Cameron, the co-owner of a Port Douglas touring company, it was even worse than she feared, with only a handful of bookings.

“Port Douglas is empty, there is just nobody here,” she said.

Ms Cameron said she had been forced to sell off one of her tourist buses to keep afloat, after selling her house earlier in the pandemic.

“[This is] in order to try to hunker down as long as is going to be necessary, with no money coming in,” she said.

“We do feel like we’ve been forgotten up here.

“[With news] coverage this morning saying: ‘Queensland tourism bouncing back’, I watched it and I just wanted to cry.”

Ms Cameron said she had applied for some of the tourism support grants now available but had not yet heard back.

The CEO of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, Tara Bennett, said occupancy was around 30–35 per cent, far less than the usual 95 per cent for this time of year.

“We’ve seen a slight increase in visitation, but it’s nowhere near what we would have hoped for,” she said.

“Traditionally, this time of year the vast majority would be from Victoria and then New South Wales, so with those two markets cut off, we are relying on the regional market … and South Australia.”

Some companies are taking increasingly drastic measures to stay afloat.

Quicksilver Group also owns a resort on Green Island but has shut it down until further notice.

Managing director Tony Baker said the loss of the Victorian and New South Wales markets and ongoing border closures forced its hand.

Mr Baker said, prior to the school holidays, occupancy had plunged to single digits.

“The cancellations are too much to continue the operation out there,” he said.

“There will be a number of staff who will be stood down.

“That means they won’t have any work, but they will continue to be an employee of the company.

“Most of the other staff will receive reduced hours.”

Day trips to the island will continue, and the owners were hoping to reopen the resort in December.

Tara Bennett said businesses across the board were feeling the effects of the downturn.

“I think everyone’s acknowledged that we’re not going to see a big pick-up for these holidays, and now we do look to December,” she said.

“[We are] hoping that there will be an easing of some of those state restrictions and we can get back to business.”

Andrea Cameron, however, said she no longer had confidence in crowds returning over Christmas and was holding out until Easter next year.

“It seems that nobody really, really understands what’s going on up here,” she said.

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