ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY: Tourists are coming to the Southern Downs after their European holidays were cancelled. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS
ESCAPE TO THE COUNTRY: Tourists are coming to the Southern Downs after their European holidays were cancelled. PICTURE: ANNA ROGERS

NO VACANCY: Tourist dollar travels back to Southern Downs

DESTINATION accommodation is in high demand on the Southern Downs, where several providers boasted their first fully-booked weekend after coronavirus-related travel restrictions shut down the tourism industry in March.

The phone hasn’t stopped ringing at Abbey of the Roses since Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the lift of the travel lockdown on June 1.

Owner Sonia Hunt said she was “rapt” to welcome guests back to her historic Warwick hotel, which has sat empty for nearly two months.

“It has been fantastic,” Ms Hunt said.

“Most of them came from Brisbane, and they were just busting to get out!”

The guests, none of whom had stayed at the Abbey before, sought a taste of old world architecture and European charm, having been forced to cancel their European holidays.

“They came here to pretend they’re overseas,” Ms Hunt said.

“But they were all interested in travelling more throughout inland Queensland, quite a few of them were heading north afterwards.

“A lot of them understand the drought and fires have affected us, so they want to come here and help that way.”

Midweek bookings have also increased, with far greater numbers than the Abbey would typically expect at this time of the year.

“We did have a lot of people cancel but it’s been filling up again,” Ms Hunt said.

R on the Downs Rural Retreat also enjoyed a full house at the weekend, but according to owners Doug and Liz Phillips, it was eager regulars racing back to relax, rather than new guests.

“They were ecstatic to be escaping their own four walls and coming back to our wide, open spaces,” Mr Phillips said.

“Our cottages were full and our future bookings are very healthy.

“Psychologically, it’s been great for our guests, and it’s been great for us. It’s lifted our morale to see the smiles on our guests’ faces again.”

The boom in bookings, however, seems limited to the “destination” accommodation providers.

For motels such as the Pitstop Lodge in Warwick, the cancellation of major annual events wiped out most reservations for the month of June, according to owner Yve Stocks.

“I haven’t gotten anyone in yet, it’s been very quiet,” Mrs Stocks said.

“We have to have events to have people come here to stay, and they’ve all been cancelled.

“It’s important for all businesses, where people stop and buy things, for events to continue, so people can stay and spread the money around.”

Mr Phillips said this time of year was typically busy at their retreat, but he hoped the popularity would continue throughout the year.

“We know, as locals, that not only will our guests help our business, but they’ll also help the local economy,” he said.

“The Southern Downs has a lot to offer, it would be great to see it firing on all cylinders once again.”

Ms Hunt said the tourism industry benefited greatly from the ongoing border closure, as she supposed many of the guests would have flown interstate should the option have been available.

“It’s helping the whole economy,” she said.

“We tried to send (guests) to restaurants out in town, and encouraged them to go down to Stanthorpe next time.”

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