Outback tourism prepares for worst

Coronavirus impact hitting outback tourism hard

Coronavirus
The Eddie Hackman-sculpted Ringer statue in Longreach won't be greeting many visitors this year. Photo - supplied.

The Eddie Hackman-sculpted Ringer statue in Longreach won't be greeting many visitors this year. Photo - supplied.

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The bronze Ringer statue placed at the entrance to the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame at Longreach symbolises endurance against the odds and it's that pioneering fortitude that outback tourist destinations will be calling on as coronavirus ramifications grip the state.

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The bronze Ringer statue placed at the entrance to the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame at Longreach symbolises endurance against the odds and it's that pioneering fortitude that outback tourist destinations will be calling on as coronavirus ramifications grip the state.

As Queensland prepared to close its borders from midnight on Wednesday and major attractions began announcing they were shutting for an unknown period, Outback Queensland Tourism Association chairman Andrew Martin acknowledged the outlook for tourism operators and services was "not good".

"A lot of our members are travelling uncharted waters, closing the gate and preparing to ride this out," Cr Martin, also the Blackall-Tambo Regional Council mayor, said.

Hospitality venues and accommodation houses felt the pinch immediately from cancellations that began flowing in.

Keith and Julie Bauer have operated the 26-room Riverland Motel and 40-seat restaurant at St George for 20 years and said they were "absolutely in dire straits".

"Twelve tourist buses have cancelled now - the first had the whole motel booked for two nights, so that's $5000 a night," Mr Bauer said. "Apart from buses, we had a car rally, the French film festival, a wedding - they're all gone."

Their usual occupancy from Monday to Thursday, their busy days, is 80 per cent - that was down to 35pc this week.

Mr Bauer said the one good thing was that they could still offer room service plus a takeaway menu, which had been well received around town.

"Everyone's doing takeaway now, even mobile vans are out there," Mr Bauer said.

He said they'd likely be making use of the 12 month interest free loan and bank loan deferral options offered to help business out.

The lockdown comes as outback tourism was preparing for its peak season.

"This is by far the worst time we've experienced," said Mr Bauer.

"We'd got through the drought then all the rain and the river being full, and were just getting going again.

"There have been lots of ups and downs economy-wise but this is tenfold on anything we've experienced."

Related: Three families, three feeding plans, one drought to beat

Among the attractions closing further north are iconic visitor destinations such as the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Outback Museum at Longreach, the Australian Age of Dinosaurs at Winton, and the historic Woolscour at Blackall.

"We're one of many, there's no point in staying open," ASHOF CEO personal assistant Annette McBride said. "We'll just concentrate on renovations now, with revised working arrangements."

The additional social distancing measures announced by the Prime Minister on Sunday mean that a number of events commemorating Qantas's 100th birthday at the Founders Museum, including the airpark roof launch and the Red and White gala have been postponed to new dates yet to be confirmed.

Read more: Connie parks up in Qantas airpark

Cr Martin said the message he wanted to share was for operators to consider postponing events rather than cancelling them if they could, saying there would be an "absolute bonanza on the other side of this, when everyone would have cabin fever".

"We are getting a handle on the financial packages available and passing that on," he said.

"There's a lot we can do to keep them as ready to operate as they can when this blows over.

"And our phones are red hot, talking to our membership group by group, to the minister three times a week, and to Tourism Events Queensland daily."

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