MR ENTSCH: To say that the Cairns and Far North Queensland tourism industry has been doing it tough lately is certainly an understatement.
Given all the challenges that the industry has faced over the last 12 months or more, it was very pleasing to see Far North Queensland businesses recognised at the recent Queensland Tourism Industry Council awards in Brisbane.
Steve and Katrina Edmondson from Sailaway in Port Douglas won the Tour and/or Operators award in recognition of their world-class sailing and snorkelling adventures in the waters of Port Douglas.
Steve and Katrina have more than three decades of experience in the marine tourism industry. In fact, Steve and Katrina were pioneers in sailing and snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, and this award is certainly thoroughly deserved.
Mark and Judy Evans of Paronella Park received the people’s choice award for experiences and services for their magnificent and historic park at Mena Creek, south of Cairns.
Paronella Park has become a must-see attraction for visitors to Far North Queensland, and I would certainly urge anybody here today who might be thinking of a trip to my neck of the woods in the future to put Paronella Park on the top of your list of things to do. I can assure you you will not be disappointed.
One of the major awards of the night was presented to tourism pioneer, and a friend of mine, the late John Courtenay, who received the Marie Watson-Blake Award for Outstanding Contribution by an Individual, and rightly so.
John was a true gentleman and the founder of the highly successful Savannah Guides.
Savannah Guides was established in 1988 to provide access for tourists to unique natural features in Queensland gulf savannah and to train high-quality tourism guides.
Since 1988, the network has expanded to support over 500 tour guides and tour operators across northern Australia. This award was fitting recognition of a lifetime’s work.
I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate all the nominees and winners of the evening.
As we move towards 80 and 90 per cent vaccination rates in Queensland, there’s a silver light on the horizon, albeit a very small one at this stage.
Tourism and Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen has, sadly, informed me this week that consumer confidence is at an all-time low across Australia for travel to Cairns—and, unfortunately, some of that is a reflection of the recently announced South African COVID variant.
This consumer confidence unfortunately will not return, they understand, until Easter 2022.
Sadly, last weekend, with that uncertainty surrounding the omicron strain, countless forward bookings for the Christmas and New Year period were cancelled because of concerns about more state-enforced border closures.
I’ve constantly said that Cairns and the Far North Queensland does not have a tourism problem; it has a confidence problem, and this confirms it.
On the flipside, however, interest from international visitors is absolutely surging.
Mr Olsen informs me that there are more than 50,000 inquiries a month from the UK alone, followed by Europe, the US and New Zealand, from people wanting to visit Cairns.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Cairns and Far North Queensland remain Australia’s premier international holiday destination, and it will be a key player in the nation’s post-pandemic tourism recovery.
Pre the pandemic, the Cairns and Far North Queensland tourism industry contributed $1 billion of tax revenue per annum and supported more than 25,000 jobs.
I have no doubt at all, given the resilience of the area, that we will recover; it’s just a matter of when.
I know that a lot of the operators have been hanging on and very much appreciate the support that has been offered to them from the federal government, starting with JobKeeper and working its way through.
We’re starting to see some of these operators up there looking at new products and new experiences for the people who come, and I have no doubt at all that we will get back to those much higher levels, if not exceed those levels, in the future.
Sadly, in the short term, consumer confidence continues to be shattered by the Queensland Government’s border uncertainty—the constant roadblocks and the shifting of goalposts—and its excuses.
I call on the government to seriously look at this impact as we get closer to achieving our vaccination goals.
Please, start by giving us an end date and sticking to it.