Many Australian tourism operators are preparing to reopen over the next week, despite Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak sending the city into lockdown and forcing states to close their borders to Victorian travellers.
New South Wales closed its border for the first time to Victoria on Wednesday.
Queensland reopened its borders on Friday to all states except Victoria. The Northern Territory will also reopen borders to all states on 17 July, but interstate arrivals from coronavirus hotspots will be required to enter mandatory supervised quarantine for two weeks, while South Australia’s 20 July border reopening will not extend to Victorians.
The holiday reservation website Wotif has seen not only consistent interest in travel bookings since the NSW-Victoria border closure but a “huge spike in interest for Queensland”, according to its managing director, Daniel Finch.
According to Finch, in the 24 hours after the Queensland government’s confirmation that the state’s borders would open to all states, aside from Victoria, Wotif had a 70% spike in travel interest for Queensland from NSW and SA travellers, a 50% increase from WA travellers and a 40% increase from NT travellers.
The Queensland Tourism Industry Council’s chief executive, Daniel Gschwind, said the border reopening came as a relief to the state’s $26bn tourism industry, which had been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“The bookings and inquiries spiked the moment the premier confirmed the opening,” he said. “We have had reports from accommodation providers that the bookings are looking a bit better now further north.”
Metropolitan Melbourne and the regional shire of Mitchell re-entered a six-week lockdown under stage three restrictions on Wednesday after community transmission soared.
Given that Victorians usually make up about 30% of the sunshine state’s winter travellers, the Melbourne outbreak will nonetheless stifle Queensland’s reopening, according to Gschwind.
“There are plenty of reasons why southerners would want to come up here, and the fact that they can’t is certainly going to have an impact on what we would normally rely on in places like Noosa and the Sunshine Coast and further up in Cairns,” Gschwind said.
Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak has also affected accommodation providers in Victoria and NSW.
Cam Grant, the cofounder of Unyoked cabins, has spent the past two days calling guests booked in to stay at Victoria locations, most of whom would have been travelling from metro Melbourne.
While occupancy for the next month was going to drop to about 15%, Grant said, most guests were looking to rebook rather than asking for refunds.
“Last time when the borders closed we called around 200 guests, and 96% of them rescheduled their bookings,” Grant said. “Only 4% wanted a refund.”
Michelle Porter, the accommodation manager of Kimo Estate, said she had also spent every day since Monday fielding calls from guests booked to stay its new boutique hotel in Gundagai, in southern NSW, which “had a good slathering of guests staying on their way through to places and travelling between Melbourne and Sydney”.
“We have definitely taken a hit with the border,” she said. “If anything, before the Victorian border closed, we probably found that once we came out of lockdown that we had increased bookings compared to this time last year because people wanted to get out of Sydney and have a change of scenery.
“The vast majority were still super keen and more bummed for us than anything else. Everyone wants to go and be in a secluded cabin in the wilderness. Being stuck at your house starting a computer and a wall has accelerated the trends that we built the houses on. Rather than sitting at your desk nine-to-five, seven days a week, people are looking to take time off.”
While interstate travel may fluctuate over the next few months, Australia’s tourism sector is benefiting from a significant increase in intrastate visitors.
According to Tourism and Events Queensland, some 42% of Queenslanders surveyed said they planned to holiday within the state over the 2020 winter break, compared with last year when only a third did.
Porter said while interstate travel had taken a hit, local visitors would keep the business going while the Victorian border remained shut.
“We have got our three eco huts that are currently booked solidly until December,” she said. “They were fairly popular before, because people can’t go anywhere but NSW and we are a good stopping point and not too far from Sydney for people to come for the night.”
The Australian Medical Association has warned that the states should be cautious about easing restrictions and opening borders further, given Melbourne’s rising cases.
“It wasn’t so long ago that we had very low numbers in Victoria, even a case of zero once,” said the AMA president, Dr Tony Bartone. “And now you see the numbers we’ve got and that’s what you see when you have a number of failures coalesce, line up with one another …
“We are all pinning our ears back and going full force as if there wasn’t a pandemic in the first place.”
Bartone said opening up was important for Australia’s tourism sector and broader economy but other states needed to be careful that they weren’t headed for a second shutdown.
“The shutdowns in Melbourne are playing with hundreds of thousands of lives by shutting down their businesses and livelihoods for the second time around. Let’s open up, but do it in a way that we can be confident that we can stay open and remain open for some time to come.”