Australians planning to travel to Queensland for the upcoming Easter holidays have been “cancelling their bookings hand over fist”, as airlines cull planned services in line with a dive in travel confidence triggered by state border restrictions.
Queensland’s tourism sector is expected to lose $35m by the end of Easter as a result of the latest spike in community transmissions of Covid-19 and resulting impacts on travel, according to predictions from both the Accommodation Association of Australia’s chief executive, Dean Long, and the Tourism and Transport Forum’s chief executive, Margy Osmond.
Ahead of the first phase of the government-subsidised half-price flights going on sale on Thursday, Long and Osmond have warned confidence to travel to Queensland has plummeted out of fear from travellers they could have to enter hotel quarantine if border conditions tighten while they are on holiday. Four of the 13 destinations, which are part of the government’s $1.2bn tourism support package, are located in Queensland.
The tourism bodies, who were initially critical that the government’s post-jobkeeper support for the sector focused on aviation jobs, have again called for ongoing wage support for the industry as hopes of a “fantastic Easter” for Queensland are crushed.
While Brisbane remained in a strict three-day lockdown, the industry expected the harsher border conditions and fears about virus transmission to hit travel across the state, as well as Queensland residents who had planned to travel interstate over Easter.
Qantas and Jetstar cancelled a number of flights in and out of Brisbane, a company spokeswoman told the Guardian on Tuesday, as they consolidated passengers still wishing to travel onto the remaining flights they were operating to the city.
“More flight cancellations are likely over the coming days,” the spokeswoman warned.
A Virgin Australia spokeswoman told the Guardian the airline was “making some changes to our forward schedule to better reflect demand for travel and changing booking trends”, also warning customers to change or cancel their bookings online as their call centre operators were experiencing “higher than normal call volumes”.
On Tuesday, as Queensland authorities announced eight new locally acquired cases of Covid-19, they revealed the state’s recent total of 15 cases had come from “two distinct clusters”.
Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, the ACT and Northern Territory had moved in a variety of ways to restrict or outright ban incoming travel from Brisbane, or the state, over the growing cluster.
The New South Wales border remained open, although the premier, Gladys Berejiklian, has asked residents eyeing a trip north over Easter to change their plans.
In Byron Bay, several venues including the Beach Hotel had become a location of concern, however organisers of the Bluesfest on Monday night sought to reassure the three-day event would go ahead over the weekend.
Long, whose organisation represents hotel-based accommodation, told the Guardian hotels in Brisbane had already lost $7m in revenue, and that while he predicted it would take about a month for occupancy levels to return to previous levels if the lockdown remains at three days, it would take even longer for revenue to return.
“There’s a real lag in revenue returning because of confidence.
“We were set for a fanatic Easter, it was going to be the boost we needed to see off the back of 2020, especially with Easter and Anzac Day being so close,” he said.
Long expected hotels across Queensland to lose $35m from cancelled holidays and dips in confidence, and warned this could increase if the Victorian government classified any other councils of Queensland as orange on its alert system.
He said booking and cancellation data showed that travellers from NSW remained the most optimistic the outbreaks would be controlled and that they could still travel to Queensland over Easter – a reflection of the state’s contract tracing system and hesitancy to close its borders throughout the pandemic.
“Victorians are the hardest and fastest to cancel because of the experience they had last year. They’re scared if they go to Queensland in general they may have to go into hotel quarantine when they get home.
“Travellers from NSW are slower to cancel trips, because they don’t have to worry about not getting home, and if flights are cancelled they know they can drive.
“There’s definitely a clear connection with how premiers behave and what impact that has on confidence to travel from their own state. It becomes part of the psyche,” Long said.
Osmond told the Guardian she predicted the outbreak would cost Queensland’s tourism sector $35m, and that while domestic tourists had been “cancelling their bookings [to Queensland] hand over fist”, it ultimately affected confidence to travel anywhere.
“Without a doubt it damages confidence across the board in taking any kind of leisure holiday. It also dampens the willingness of people to travel for business,” she said.
She noted capital cities and north Queensland had suffered the most from the lack of international tourists, and said tourism businesses in these regions would have already “ramped up employment in anticipation of this long weekend”.
Osmond urged governments to “significantly ramp up vaccine rollouts” to increase confidence to travel so international borders could be opened sooner.
Osmond also renewed calls for further wage assistance to the tourism sector, warning it was “bleeding expertise” and that the industry “could find ourselves half our size” when international borders reopen.