Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles has urged locals to take advantage of recently opened hotel vacancies in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast as border closures force Sydneysiders to cancel their holidays.
The Sunshine State is now shut to travellers from the local government areas (LGAs) of the city of Sydney, Waverley, Woollahra, Bayside, Canada Bay, Inner West and Randwick, except for Queensland residents who must go into hotel quarantine upon entry.
As Queensland records three new local COVID-19 cases today, all of whom are connected to the initial woman from Portugal, the first flight into the state today had 20 out of 120 passengers sent back to Sydney due to the new restrictions.
"Police have been meeting flights at our airports this morning and turning people around, and so we'd like to send message to anyone in Sydney who was thinking of coming up to Queensland, please don't," Miles told a press conference this morning.
"We have asked the airlines to provide alerts at Sydney Airport."
The ramifications of this tough stance to contain the spread will be acutely felt by Queensland's tourism industry, which was gearing up for a busy period and has also lost some of its traditional Victorian custom due to Melbourne's lockdown.
Queensland has reopened its borders to Victorian travellers, but the announcement may have come too late for some Melburnians to plan that winter escape north.
"We're also urging Queenslanders to take up the opportunity that will come up with some cancelled bookings," Miles said.
"We know that on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts for example 20 to 25 per cent of bookings for the weekend and the early school holidays could well be cancelled, and that is a chance for Queenslanders who'd not yet booked their holidays to please consider the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.
"Similarly, the number of people from Sydney who had planned to travel up for State of Origin on Sunday means that our [Brisbane] CBD hotels will be experiencing cancellations - we expect somewhere up to 40 per cent of hotel rooms that were booked this weekend could now become vacant."
He added this was a chance for anyone who might not have had plans to stay overnight after the Origin, or to simply have a great weekend in the Queensland capital.
Gold Coast has "a lot of stock available", marketing efforts ramp up in southern states
Destination Gold Coast CEO Patricia O'Callaghan says accommodation providers in the city were tracking at above 70 per cent occupancy for the school holiday period, but the declaration of Greater Sydney hotspots has led to cancellations.
"What we know is prior to COVID in 2019 we did see over $110 million being injected by Sydneysiders into the Gold Coast, so they are are a critical part of our economy; they tend to stay longer and spend more, so this will have an impact on our industry," O'Callaghan says.
"But what we are seeing as well is a great take-up from Victoria, so we know that we are able to welcome them back. We are seeing Victorians booking thick and hard at the moment, which is fantastic news.
"But at the end of the day there are still very uncertain times ahead, so we're making the most of the areas that are open, because it is a critical period for our industry."
She says Destination Gold Coast is ramping up its marketing efforts in Victoria, as well as other states such as Tasmania and South Australia.
"Any area that is open to us at the moment, we have marketing initiatives," she says.
"Our message to all potential visitors out there is choose the Gold Coast. This was a $5.9 billion industry that took a $3 billion hit - these school holidays are important not just for business now, but obviously the survival of our industry moving forward.
"We know that the Gold Coast is the most searched destination on so many holiday sites at the moment, so the demand is there."
O'Callaghan has also observed a trend of "Queenslanders backing Queensland".
"We have have the holiday dollars program out at the moment. We had 87,000 registrations for 30,000 vouchers; they're using those vouchers, they're booking in at the moment, and a lot of Queenslanders are reviewing their holidays down south.
"I think that's where the Gold Coast is a great potential. We have a lot of stock available. There are so many experiences whether it's the beaches, the hinterland, the theme parks and great dining, so a lot for families to see and do."
A 'devastating repeat'
Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) chief executive Daniel Gschwind describes the situation as a 'cruel merry-go-round' that is wearing down the resilience of the industry.
"In a devastating repeat of previous holiday lead-in periods, tourism operators are again facing travel restrictions for interstate visitors," he says.
"This time it is residents of Sydney and other part of NSW who will not be able to visit Queensland, or anywhere else for that matter, for at least the next week.
"This takes some of the joy out of the announcement earlier in the week that travel restrictions into Queensland for all of Melbourne will be lifted just in time for the winter school holidays."
Gschwind explains NSW contributes about half of Queensland's annual, interstate visitor revenue, with a share of almost $5 billion.
"Missing out on the boost to the economy that NSW visitors normally bring to Queensland regions is a bitter blow for the operators," he says.
"It yet again draws attention to the fact that we must continue to improve the effectiveness of all our virus-fighting tools at our disposal: tracing, testing, vaccine roll-out, quarantine facilities, health services capacity, as well as appropriate hygiene measures.
"Given that some variant of the COVID virus is likely to be present somewhere in the world for years, governments will have to map a pathway to 'living with it'.
"And living with it must also include the freedom of movement - eventually also internationally. We need a coherent plan with practical steps towards it."
The tourism industry leader is however positive about the Queensland Government's easing of restrictions (see below) for tourism and hospitality operators.
"The new provisions for COVID-safe operations will make it easier for operators to remain viable with increased venue capacities and a reduction in staff requirements for food services (self-serve buffets will be allowed again)," he says.
QLD cluster update
While Sydney is battling with the highly infectious Delta variant of COVID-19 that can be spread by the most fleeting of contacts between five and 10 seconds, Queensland's cluster of the relatively less transmissible Alpha variant has increased by three local cases today.
Of the three new cases, one of is the president of the Portuguese Family Centre, while the other two were accompanying the initial case who had travelled from Portugal and have both been in hotel quarantine.
QLD eases restrictions with wider-reaching QR code mandate
Queensland will be easing restrictions acros a wide range of settings as of 1am tomorrow, but the benefits come with a catch - mandatory rules around the Check In QLD app will be extended to the following new sectors:
- Venues that attract large crowds, such as stadiums, convention centres, theme parks, concert venues and cinemas;
- Shopping centres and supermarkets;
- Beauty and personal care service, such as hairdressing, beauty therapy and nail services;
- Indoor events, such as cultural festivals and expos;
- Outdoor events, such as fun runs and fetes;
- Leisure and recreation facilities, such as gyms, health clubs, indoor sports facilities and indoor pools;
- Short-term residential facilities such as hotels, boarding houses and short-term holiday rentals;
- Outdoor recreation, such as caravan parks, camping areas, zoos and aquariums;
- Public-facing government services, such as customer service counters in government buildings, galleries, museums, libraries and community centres such as recreation halls;
- Weddings, funerals and places of worship (only required if indoor);
- Higher education institutions, such as universities, TAFEs and registered training organisations;
- Adult entertainment venues; and
- Hospitals, residential aged care, disability service accommodation (applies to visitors, volunteers and contractors, not staff or patients/residents).
"Many have already recognised how easy and simple the app is," Health Minister Yvette D'Ath said over the weekend.
"It's free, it's easy and it helps us keep Queensland safe."
As of tomorrow indoor venues will be able to have three people per four square metres, including hostels and B&Bs, representing an increase of 50 per cent. There will be no limits on gatherings at the home, in outdoor areas, aged care, disability services or hospitals. Self-service food is also back.
"The decision allowing the return of buffets and smorgasboards will free up staff allowing hotels to open more rooms in time for the school holidays," Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said over the weekend.
Updated at 11:13am AEST on 24 June 2021.
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