For residents of southern states dreaming of a summer snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef or lazing about on Gold Coast beaches, there’s no time to waste.
As Queensland prepares to ease its border restrictions to allow travellers from former coronavirus hotspots in many accommodation providers in popular locations are already putting up their no-vacancy signs.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Tuesday the Sunshine State will reopen its borders to Greater Sydney from December 1, with a decision on Victoria to be announced on Wednesday.
The news has given the nation’s domestic tourism industry a welcome boost, but would-be holidaymakers could be left disappointed if they don’t act quickly to secure a booking.
“Places like the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast are always the traditional summer holiday destinations for the southern states. The challenge will be for those people in New South Wales and Victoria who haven’t booked accommodation yet,” University of Queensland tourism expert Pierre Benckendorff said.
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Summer holiday accommodation is already “quite well booked” around south-east Queensland, said Dr Benckendorff, particularly in popular holiday hotspots the Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and Stradbroke Island.
It’s been quite difficult to get accommodation. A lot of tourism operators have said to me that they’re already fully booked for Christmas,” he said.
“I know that a lot of people from New South Wales and Victoria had booked ahead hoping that the borders are open and they’ve just held their nerve and not cancelled. So that’s obviously going to pay off for them.”
While those who haven’t yet booked might struggle a bit to find accommodation in south-east Queensland, other options are available.
“I know some of the operators are up in north Queensland, in Townsville, Cairns and the Whitsundays have still got capacity,” Dr Benckendorff said.
The state has been doing fairly well out of intrastate tourism, he said, but operators have still “been missing those visitors from Victoria and NSW as they’re a pretty big slice of the domestic market”, he said.
University of Sydney Business School’s Professor Rico Merkert said Queensland’s decision to reopen its borders was a “win-win for taxpayers and anyone remotely exposed to the travel and tourism industry, let alone general cross border business activities”.
Australia’s tourism sector has been among the worst affected by the pandemic, which was a double whammy for many operators and accommodation providers already struggling to keep their businesses going following the devastating bushfire season.
“The importance of this decision to reopen the border between NSW and Queensland cannot be underestimated,” Professor Merkert said.
The Sydney-Brisbane-Melbourne route is not only the golden triangle of domestic aviation but really the backbone of the economy along the eastern seaboard of Australia.”
Premier Palaszczuk’s decision was “a no-brainer that has the potential to kickstart the economy and really doesn’t cost anything”, Professor Merkert said.
“Keeping domestic borders open will save thousands of jobs in aviation, tourism and many other related industries,” he said.
The Accommodation Association, which represents 80 per cent of Australia’s accommodation providers, said the decision was a boon for struggling hotels, motels and more.
In a normal year, accommodation pours about $17 billion into Australia’s economy, and travel between Australia’s eastern states are a major contributor.
Accommodation Association chief executive Dean Long said Queensland’s announcement “couldn’t have come at a better time”.
“With the holiday season so close, we expect to see a very welcome surge in accommodation bookings up and down the east coast of Australia as we all celebrate the return to a more normal framework,” Mr Long said.
“For the 100,000 people who work within our industry and the many other businesses who rely on our sector, there will also be a sigh of relief after what has been an extremely tough year financially and psychologically.”
Mr Long said the tourism sector was keeping its fingers crossed for similar announcement on Queensland and Victoria’s border.
After surrounding states shut their borders to Victoria, the state has resoundingly defeated its second wave.
Such a significant and proud milestone for Victoria – 0,0,0,0 – just three months on from when the state recorded 7880 active cases. The second wave is crushed. An amazing community effort to achieve this!@VictorianCHO @peripatetical @DanielAndrewsMP @MartinFoleyMP pic.twitter.com/qdpDvaM6fR
— Burnet Institute (@BurnetInstitute) November 23, 2020
Just three months ago Victoria was battling 7880 active cases, but on Tuesday declared zero active cases.
State health authorities said it was the first time since February 21 that Victorian hospitals had held no coronavirus patients.
It was also the state’s 26th day in a row without new COVID infections or fatalities.