Premier’s plan to bring back tourism hubs
PREMIER Annastacia Palaszczuk is expected to greenlight flights between major Queensland tourism hubs this weekend after talks with Gold Coast powerbrokers yesterday.
The move is designed to relieve pain for suffering business operators ahead of next month's winter school holidays.
Gold Coast leaders said they were told of the initiative during a close-door meeting with Ms Palaszczuk yesterday. The powerbrokers implored the Premier to reconsider her stance on reopening the border and ease social restrictions so business can get more people through their doors.
"We told the Premier the borders absolutely must be open before September and if they remain closed until then we are going to have lots of businesses which fail," one leader told the Bulletin last night.
Accommodation providers yesterday said tourists were starting to cancel winter holidays because of the uncertainly around the reopening of the border.
The Premier says she has "sleepless nights" about the economy but will not be bullied into reopening the border, despite nationwide criticism. She says there were still 362 active cases in NSW.
Her stance on the border was backed yesterday by Mayor Tom Tate who said he was "100 per cent" behind Ms Palaszczuk and called on Prime Minister Scott Morrsion to extend the $1500-a-fortnight JobKeeper program from its planned September end day until Christmas.
"These are really hard decisions, I have sleepless nights," Ms Palaszczuk said. "I understand people are hurting. I understand people have lost their jobs.
"I want to get people back into work as soon as possible but if I don't do it safely it would cripple our industry for years to come."
Ms Palaszczuk and Tourism Minister Kate Jones spent the whole day on the Coast yesterday speaking to stakeholders and traders after the Premier was challenged last week by business operators to see their pain first-hand.
The Bulletin understands the business leaders who took part in the meeting at Evandale included Gold Coast Titans co-owner Rebecca Frizelle, tourism supremo Paul Donovan, Tourism Australia chairman Bob East, GoldlinQ chairman John Witheriff, Central Chamber of Commerce boss Martin Hall, former premier Rob Borbidge and Gold Coast Suns chairman Tony Cochrane.
"Everyone on the business side agreed it was mission critical to get the borders open as soon as possible," one leader said.
"Our businesses are struggling, particularly tourism which is our biggest industry."
The Premier said a decision would be made by Sunday about expanding the number of patrons allowed in restaurants and cafes.
"My priority is getting Queensland back to work ahead of the other states," she said.
The Bulletin was told Ms Palaszczuk is also expected to announce the return of internal state travel within Queensland ahead of the school holidays in a bid to stimulate the tourism industry.
However, business bosses who took part in the meeting said the move, while positive, was unlikely to significantly move the dial for the Coast, with the majority of domestic tourists coming from interstate.
Cr Tate yesterday said he was heartened by the potential expansion of restaurant openings and insisted any economic recovery would be tourism-led.
However, he said the border would have to remain closed until it was safe.
"The meeting was constructive so we could let her know about our concerns and how we move forward regarding COVID-19," Cr Tate said.
"As we move forward the border restrictions will remain the way they are. As we get closer (to July 10) I would say there is a message of hope.
"(Keeping the borders closed) is a huge price to pay to make sure that we get down to COVID free state but we really do not have a choice.
"This pandemic could ignite again and I back the Premier."
Ms Palaszczuk yesterday said it was "highly unlikely the borders would reopen before July 10.
Mr Cochrane yesterday refused to discuss the contents of the meeting but said he was pleased with the outcome
"It was great the Premier came down and spoke to the Gold Coast and we will be watching anxiously at what will be decided over the course of the next two weeks," he said.
"Everyone gets the health message, no question but we do not want to be wiped out in an economic catastrophe.
Mr Donovan said Ms Palaszczuk "listened closely".
"The Premier was interested in what was said, particularly by small businesses and hopefully what she learned will be taken into consideration this weekend and in the decisions to come."
A long-time Surfers Paradise tower manager said Ms Palaszczuk's messaging about the border "realistically" staying shut until September is prompting holiday booking cancellations.
Judy Stephens, manager of the 15-storey Baronnet, said she had her first attempt at a cancellation on Monday by a Victorian woman who had booked for two weeks holiday in August and comes every year to escape Melbourne's winter.
"This lady called - and she comes every year in August for at least a couple of weeks - and wanted to cancel. She said it was because 'Your border won't be open until at least September'.
"I said 'Please don't cancel, I'm sure we will be open by then' and she has left her booking in place. But she was the first one and she won't be the last.
"My anxiety levels have risen to a point of sheer frustration because there is no reason according to the country's top health people that we should be closed."
Ms Stephens said her August bookings were quite good and the appetite for Queensland getaways from Australians was strong and it would be devastating if the border closure killed them all off.
"We've lost the V8s, we've lost the Gold Coast Marathon. We know that. But surely she cannot stop winter holidays."
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington also visited the Gold Coast yesterday and took aim at the confusion over when the border will reopen.
"We are hearing choruses of people who are in the depths of the darkest depression because of COVID-19," she said.
"That is exactly why we need the Premier to give these businesses certainty and clarity around issues such as the border closure."
Originally published as Premier's plan to bring back tourism