Thousands of Australians are cancelling trips to Queensland and tourism operators are bracing for a fresh wave of pain as Brisbane is plunged into a three-day lockdown to combat a local outbreak of COVID-19.
The snap lockdown, which began last night, prompted states and territories to quickly shut borders with either Greater Brisbane or all of Queensland days out from the Easter long weekend.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed eight new locally virus cases on Tuesday, with two active clusters.
Airlines, accommodation providers and tourism operators are being swamped with cancellations as holiday-makers heading to the Sunshine State scramble to change plans.
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Flight Centre boss Graham Turner reacted angrily to Ms Palaszczuk’s lockdown announcement on Monday, blasting it as “sheer lunacy” that could cost the tourism industry up to $2 billion.
“Locking Brisbane down will have a short-range three-day effect,” he told the Courier Mail.
“It will cost $1 billion to $2 billion, but the impact will last longer, and just as domestic travel was coming back.”
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said the lockdown was an “unbelievable blow” that could be felt well beyond Easter.
“Consumer confidence will take an immediate hit, with interstate travellers reconsidering travel to Queensland,” he told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
“It’s not just Brisbane – destinations like the Gold and Sunshine coasts will be severely impacted this week, and possibly beyond.
“Even if the lockdown ends in three days, the damage will be long-lasting. This couldn’t have come at a worse time.”
Holiday cancellations are expected to be particularly painful for operators in tourism-reliant regions of Queensland that had been banking on a rush of domestic tourists while international borders remained closed.
Cairns Adventure Group director Roderic Rees told the ABC while he understood the health concerns, the timing of the lockdown “couldn’t be worse”.
“The phone’s been ringing hot since the announcement … we had one point where we had all our lines on the go, all doing cancellations simultaneously,” he said.
“It’s a real kick in the teeth to us up here.”
Destination Gold Coast chief executive Patricia O’Callaghan said the industry was feeling anxious after a positive lead-up to the Easter travel season.
“(It’s) quite heartbreaking in terms of the timing, but this isn’t the first time we have been down this path before,” Ms O’Callaghan told ABC News Breakfast.
“Hopefully we can get through the next three days as quickly as possible and see the travel restrictions ease for Easter.”
While many of the fresh border closures applied only to the Greater Brisbane area, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged residents in her state to rethink their Easter travel plans if they were travelling “anywhere in Queensland”.
Ms O’Callaghan said regions like the Gold Coast were relying on Australians hanging onto their bookings.
“We need you right now,” she said. “We’re a $5.9 billion industry. One in six jobs on the Gold Coast rely on tourism. We need visitors. Especially during that Easter period. So, hold onto those bookings. We know you want to come here.
“Let’s get through the next three days.”
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the three-day lockdown on Monday as an outbreak in Brisbane grew.
During the lockdown, residents in Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands will not be able to leave their homes except for food, exercise, essential work and medical reasons.
Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown was tough but necessary as the new cases were the highly infectious UK strain.
“We‘ve seen what’s happened in other countries. I don’t want to see that happen to Queensland. I don’t want to see that happen to Australia. I know in is a really big call. I know it is really tough,” she on Monday.
“We have Easter coming up, we have school holidays coming up, but let’s do it now and let’s do it right and let’s see if we can come through it at the other end.”