Queensland tourism’s $13b COVID wipe-out
Queensland's battered tourism industry has suffered a $13 billion wipe-out as the full cost of the coronavirus pandemic can finally be laid bare.
New figures from Tourism Research Australia show Queensland's tourism industry - a $26 billion empire at the end of 2019, was slashed in half last year as international travel bans, border closures, and COVID outbreaks decimated travel.
In an encouraging sign, Queensland has weathered the storm better than major rivals NSW and Victoria, but some have questioned whether the State Government is doing enough to help kickstart tourism's revival.
There are also fears of more dark times ahead as the full impact of the end of JobKeeper comes into effect, with dire predictions that up to a quarter of Queensland's 40,000 tourism businesses could go broke before emerging from the pandemic.
International travel was worth more than $6 billion to the state economy in 2019 - last year it was worth just $1.4 billion, much of which was recorded in the early part of the year before borders closed and flights were grounded.
Interstate traveller numbers also plummeted 70 per cent.
The next round of statistics, due to be released later this year, will make even more depressing reading, because 2020 included a strong start as holiday-makers lapped up a Queensland summer while the coronavirus was still only a word on overseas news bulletins.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council CEO Daniel Gschwind said there was no sugar-coating the devastating impact of the pandemic on a sector which was the glamour girl of the state's economy.
"These numbers tell in cold, hard facts the story of suffering in our industry," he said.
"When you translate it to lost revenue of tens of thousands of businesses you get a sense of just how dramatic this has been.
"It's a grim picture and it will take a long, long road to recovery."
However, he said he was not surprised by the data.
""The evidence has been there for all to see," he said.
"You could see it in the faces and hear it in the voices of tourism operators across the state."
Cairns and the far north bore the full impact of the pandemic, with the region's tourism industry relying heavily on international visitors.
Roderic Rees, who runs the Cairns Adventure Group responsible for rafting tours on Barron Gorge, said he was not surprised by the numbers.
"It makes perfect sense to me because it's what we've been seeing and feeling," he said.
He said he was optimistic of a recovery, but it would not be a smooth ride.
"It's going to be all over the place," he said.
"We're going to have to ride it out for some time."
However, there have also been positives.
Queensland performed better than most other states and territories, including key rivals NSW (a 51 per cent decline) and Victoria (a 63 per cent drop).
Queenslanders also answered the call to arms from state leaders by spending more on holidays within our borders than ever before.
Queenslanders spent a record $4.3 billion on intrastate holidays.
TRA's 'Tourism Recovery Scenarios' report, released last week, also showed Queensland was mostly likely to recover faster than any other state or territory, returning to pre-pandemic domestic tourism levels next year.
Mr Gschwind said those numbers were cause for optimism.
"We've shown with our contract tracing and testing and now with the vaccine hopefully we have turned the corner.
"And Australia will be in an exceptional position that will be very attractive to international consumers.
"That gives us something to build on."
On the Sunshine Coast, which has fared better than most regions throughout the pandemic, Aussie World has cut days of trade before posting solid numbers in recent weeks.
Aussie World manager Shannon Fay said there was hope of brighter times ahead.
"Like many tourism operators across Queensland, it's been a challenging 12 months for us at Aussie World, but we've seen some light at the end of the tunnel this Easter holidays with people returning to the Sunshine Coast looking for fun family-friendly experiences," he said.
Originally published as Queensland tourism's $13b COVID wipe-out