HOLIDAY HOPES: Tourism leaders say 2021 is looking strong
WHEN borders were slammed shut, all eyes were on the industry that props up many people across the Whitsundays and Mackay.
The tourism sector was left reeling with lockdowns and travel bans in what was a make or break situation.
However, with the push to holiday here and immense support from Aussies chasing their share of the Queensland sun, things are looking brighter ahead of 2021.
Tourism Whitsunday CEO Tash Wheeler said businesses had battled through yet another hurdle this year after an already tough time for the industry post-Cyclone Debbie.
"When you look around the world at what has occurred, I think our region has done particularly well (for) the most part," she said.
"It's not without its challenges and the industry has been through an incredibly tough time and had to make some incredibly tough decisions."
Mrs Wheeler said companies across the Whitsundays were still adapting to the challenges presented by the pandemic, including regearing to a domestic market.
"Our product is going to have to continue to diversify," she said.
"In time, the internationals will come back, and I think that when they do come back, they'll come back in droves."
As the region bids farewell to 2020, the main focus for Tourism Whitsundays will be continuing to draw in crowds from across Australia.
"At the moment, we've got this incredible opportunity to create return visitation for the domestic market and get people talking about why the Whitsundays is the best tourism holiday destination in the world," she said.
She hoped that this would allow tourism operators to begin working at full capacity with all employees back on board.
Pre-Cyclone Debbie, the Whitsunday tourism industry was on track to take more visitors to the Great Barrier Reef than any other departure point along the coast.
Over the next three years this vision will be renewed, with an ambitious goal to return the Whitsundays' overnight visitor expenditure to better than pre-Cyclone Debbie figures of more than $850 million and a total visitation of $1 million.
"We have very limited budgets compared to many of our counterparts, but I think we've been really clever in the way we've used our budgets by partnering with third parties and negotiating fantastic deals and marketing campaigns," Mrs Wheeler said.
The Wonder of Whitsundays market will continue into 2021 and harnessing the recognisable voice of Karen Jacobsen, otherwise known as Siri, will all work toward achieving this.
Down the road in Mackay, similar shockwaves were felt during the coronavirus lockdowns.
Mackay Tourism CEO Tas Webber said 60 per cent of businesses in the industry had been significantly impacted by COVID-19.
Despite the pandemic, the Mackay tourism industry had its fair share of successes that included an early second place in Wotif's search for the best town in Queensland.
The tourism industry received $50,000 in grants to assist economic recovery as a result of COVID-19.
Moving into 2021, Mr Webber said the main goal of Mackay Tourism would be guiding businesses through continued mentoring, business development and marketing.
"We will work with local, state and national government organisations to advocate for our tourism industry," he said.
"With restrictions easing and borders opening, we are confident that our efforts during 2020 have planted the seed for prospective travellers and the Mackay region will be on their bucket list as a dream holiday destination."
He also flagged plans for a push to develop tour-based products in 2021 while advocating for the Pioneer Valley Mountain Bike Project and Mackay Waterfront PDA.
Despite the struggles of the year just gone, Mr Webber has high hopes that 2021 will prove to be a positive year for the region.
"The pandemic has given locals the opportunity to explore their own backyard, and we would like to thank them for their support during 2020," he said.
"Going forward, we urge our tourism businesses to keep building on the momentum they've achieved, and we look forward to working with, and supporting, our tourism industry for a strong 2021."