‘Sea of empty shops’: Silent victims of tourism tragedy

 

They're the silent victims of the tourism tragedy unfolding across Queensland.

Amid predictions up to a quarter of Queensland's 40,000 tourism operations could go broke due to the coronavirus pandemic, businesses from dozens of other industries are being caught in the crossfire.

More than 50,000 Queensland businesses and some 172,000 workers are expected to be impacted by the end of the JobKeeper subsidy next week.

Tourism data has revealed every dollar spent in a country town is recycled seven times as an example of how vital tourism is to bush communities and the same scenario is being felt in Cairns, the north Queensland holiday haven on the frontline of the collapse of international travel.

 

The Cairns economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. Picture: Sean Davey
The Cairns economy has been hit hard by the pandemic. Picture: Sean Davey

 

Vacant stores and 'for lease' signs dominate the Cairns CBD with hundreds of operators shutting their doors since the start of the pandemic.

Hundreds of the region's 1200-plus tourism operators have either closed or gone into 'hibernation' due to the impact of COVID, while a restoration project on the Cairns Esplanade has also seen many businesses shutter up.

Cairns Chamber of Commerce CEO Patricia O'Neill said the tourism setback was affecting all parts of the local economy where one in five jobs are reliant on the tourism industry.

"The real impact is even higher than that," she said.

"A beauty salon is not classed as a tourism business, but it still needs tourists to make up its

customers.

"They are missing out on the visitors which makes them even more dependent on the local market.

"You have to understand that there is a supply chain effect here where everything is connected to that one person who gets off the plane.

"If that tourism operator is struggling, they're not getting their hair done every eight weeks, they're not buying that pair of shoes.

"That's what keeps the other businesses in town going."

 

 

She said recent announcements promoting half-price flights and discounts of tourism experiences would help stimulate other industries.

"Just the additional foot traffic alone that you are going to see will be a real shot in the arm for the area," she said.

Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Mark Olsen said the airline deal announced by the federal government last week had the potential to bring another 5000 to 7000 visitors a week to Cairns, which could inject an extra $1 million a day into the city's economy and benefit industries across the board.

Matt Cameron-Smith, CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia which runs the Mossman Gorge Centre, said a thriving tourism sector was vital for entire communities.

"Tourism is the lifeblood of our region," he said.

"When you visit tourism businesses you are helping to feed businesses that are being fed by people in tourism."

 

 

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday doubled down on her call for a targeted assistance package for businesses after JobKeeper ends.

"I think what we will see in a couple of weeks is a lot of families will see the end of JobKeeper and that will have a huge impact," she said.

"Industries such as the tourism industry are doing it extremely tough at the moment and I once again call on the Prime Minister to do more targeted assistance for industries such as the tourism industry that are going to see the huge impact when JobKeeper ends at the end of this month.

"This is a really serious issue

"Once again we're seeing the Federal Government not listening to people, not talking to people and not understanding the real issues."

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli yesterday said, he also advocated for a targeted assistance package for businesses when job keeper wins - but he won't "just whinge" about it being a federal problem.

"It's (the Premier's actions) been solely focused on just Canberra's response and it's almost as though we've thrown our hands up and said there's nothing we can do as a State Government - that's not the case."

"We can't just cry Canberra all the time.

Mr Crisafulli said the Federal Government's $1.2bn half-price airfare package equalled about $50 per Australian compared to the Queensland Government's $3m travel voucher scheme which is worth 77 cents per Queenslander.

"I reckon tourism and hospitality businesses are worth a little more than that.

 

Doors close without visitors

A Cairns beauty salon owner has told of the heartbreak of watching businesses go bust in the tourist town's CBD.

Monique Naden has run BeWaxed in the heart of Cairns for more than 15 years, operating from an arcade with an ever-dwindling number of tenants.

While the Cairns tourism sector relies heavily on international visitors, the flow-on effects have been devastating for businesses in every industry.

 

Cairns beauty salon owner Monique Naden says she has seen many businesses shut down.
Cairns beauty salon owner Monique Naden says she has seen many businesses shut down.

Ms Naden said times had been tough without the visitors who usually make up roughly half of her customers.

"We're not a tourism business, but we're all feeling it," she said.

"We just haven't got the foot traffic at the moment.

"The backpackers would all be in the area (there was formerly a backpacker travel centre in the same shopping arcade) so they'd come in to get their waxing done and the ones here longer-term would sometimes end up as your employees too.

"Without them, I'm struggling."

She said it was 'heartbreaking' to see the normally vibrant CBD deserted of international visitors.

"It's very sad," she said.

"It's heartbreaking for myself and our own struggles, but also to see the affect it has had on so many other businesses in the area.

"Our locals are very important to us and they have been great since the loss of international tourists and with the restrictions even on domestic tourists.

"I would love to see the tourists come back."

 

Originally published as 'Sea of empty shops': Silent victims of tourism tragedy



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