The tourism industry in far north Queensland is grappling with approximately $60 million in holiday cancellations due to severe weather and widespread flooding during the early part of the summer holiday season. Various towns, including Cooktown to Innisfail, are cut off by floodwaters, and Cairns airport has shut down amid the unfolding flooding emergency.
Mark Olsen, CEO of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, estimates the industry’s losses at $60 million, with over 4,500 visitors and 400 emergency services personnel in the affected region. Cyclone Jasper’s approach and continued flooding have led to the unprecedented overflow of the Barron River into Cairns airport. Olsen emphasizes the need for assistance in rebuilding the industry, anticipating a challenging recovery period.
Travelers like Patrick Kelly, scheduled to fly to Cairns, experienced cancellations and disruptions. The Daintree Rainforest ecotourism company and other businesses, including Paronella Park and Fitzroy Island Resort, have been forced to close.
With roads damaged and the Daintree River still flooding, tourism access remains restricted. This setback follows previous challenges from the COVID-19 impact on north Queensland’s tourism, which prompted the distribution of 15,000 travel vouchers in a recovery effort.
Angie Hewitt, director of Daintree Rainforest, underscores the significant impact on tourism businesses, with multiple tour cancellations and a lack of access for visitors. The Cairns airport aerodrome has experienced flooding, leading to cancellations and delays, and the recovery process is expected to take time.
Hewitt acknowledges the inherent risk of weather-related disruptions in the region and emphasizes the dependency of businesses on tourism. Despite the challenges, she recognizes the resilience of the industry and its capacity for recovery over time.
The disruption to the tourism industry comes as another blow, considering the recent challenges faced by north Queensland’s tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The distribution of travel vouchers was a part of the recovery attempt, but now, with the natural disaster exacerbating the situation, the industry is facing a double setback.
Angie Hewitt emphasizes the emergency nature of the situation, noting shortages of supplies as the region grapples with the aftermath of the extreme weather. The closure of businesses, including the Daintree Rainforest and popular tourist destinations like Paronella Park and Fitzroy Island Resort, adds to the economic strain on the local community.
The impact is not limited to immediate cancellations but extends to the anticipation of a surge in tourist numbers leading up to Christmas. The closure of the Daintree River and the need for extensive road repairs to restore tourism access highlight the challenges that lie ahead for the industry’s recovery.
As the Cairns airport works on clearing debris and assessing runway infrastructure, there is a recognition that the aftermath of weather events is an inherent part of the landscape in this region. Tourism, while a crucial economic driver, is also susceptible to the unpredictable forces of nature, making recovery efforts more complex and time-consuming.
Despite the hardships, Angie Hewitt reflects on the resilience of businesses operating in these challenging landscapes. The acknowledgment of the long recovery process underscores the understanding that the impacts of weather events on tourism can have enduring effects.
In the face of adversity, the hope is that the industry will receive the necessary support for rebuilding, not only from within the local community but also from external sources. The commitment to recovery remains strong, driven by the understanding that tourism is not just a business but an integral part of the identity and livelihood of far north Queensland.