Community opinion divided as tourism calls for borders to reopen


Karlie Brady


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Steve Edmondson, owner operator of Sailaway, has reached out to the Premier saying Port Douglas businesses can't wait until September. Image: Karlie Brady

A collective chill has gone down the spines of many tourism reliant businesses in the Shire this week following the Premier and Queensland Chief Health Officer both flagging September as a likely date to reopen state borders.

It had been assumed by many that at stage three of Queensland’s easing restrictions which kicks in in July that interstate travel would be likely to resume.

However, Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, revealed while travel could resume in July if all goes perfectly, September was more realistic.

“September is a far, far more realistic date for this to occur, having said that I can’t even commit that September would be possible it depends what happens between now and then,” Dr Young said.

Opinions across the community are split with a recent Newsport Facebook poll asking if borders should be reopened sooner than September, revealing of 879 voters, 49 per cent were in favour while 51 per cent believed it was too soon.

Tourism calling for a reopen

The tourism industry is taking a stand saying waiting until September would be “devastating”.

Local tour owner and operator, Steve Edmondson from Sailaway Port Douglas, has been heavily advocating for the tourism industry’s reopening and has called on the Premier to open the borders by July.

“I’m not saying open tomorrow, but July and August is such a key part of the domestic tourist season and it is potentially going to be completely blocked and that’s really alarming and totally devastating for tourism and our region,” he said.

“The Premier’s comments saying that tourism is robust and it will survive are incredibly disappointing and I completely disagree. It Is sustainable, but it is fragile, there are a lot of livelihoods at stake here.”

Mr Edmondson said that the state needs to give operators a border reopening plan because while businesses can be shut down in a day, it will take time to start back up.

“A July reopening was the national plan and we need to have some consistency across the country and a plan because without any confidence no one is going to start booking.

“I appreciate concern and alarm, but we do have a situation where we have such low case numbers in all of the states. We should have Australians supporting Australians and not have a rivalry between the states.”

Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree (TPDD) CEO, Tara Bennett, said the local tourism body is advocating for a review of the timeline.

“The possibility of interstate travel not resuming untill September is devastating for every single tourism business in the Douglas Shire,” she said.

“To miss out on critical revenue from July to September will be the end for many businesses.

“The seasonality of the tourism sector means we rely heavily on visitation from June to October to bolster bank balances for year-round operation.”

Local doctor, Alexandra Bernhardi, said while she believes Australians should be able to travel interstate, she did acknowledge opening the borders will increase the number of COVID cases.

“I think the real question here is, have we learnt anything from the pandemic so far and will what we have learnt change our behaviour in regard to the root causes of what many obviously perceive as being the biggest threat we have been facing in decades?” She said.

“Have we started to look at and tackle the root causes of the problem? Because as long as we only look at containing the symptoms, we will not get on top of it. The virus will stay with us and there will be other viruses evolving.”

Dr Bernhardi said that only if we use this time to address the underlying issues, which she believes are lifestyle-related chronic diseases and environmental pollution causing immune dysfunction, will any of these restrictive measures make sense.

Entsch weighs in

Federal Leichhardt MP, Warren Entsch, has also expressed concern, urging the Premier to reconsider.

“Tourism is absolutely vital, they need time to plan, to suggest that it is not going to be until September is ridicules,” he said

“The reality is that in areas like Port Douglas, most of the income generated comes between June and September.

Mr Entsch added that with Australians unable to travel overseas, the Far North will be a popular option, but other locations will be pushing for visitors to come to them instead.

“We have to be out there in the market otherwise we are going to lose this opportunity to other states, and we are just going to be sitting here. There are a lot of very good viable businesses that are not going to survive another full season without business.”

“So, I say to the premier, I appreciate all the effort you have done, you have done a great job managing this pandemic, but we could be destroying a lot of businesses unnecessarily.”

Mr Entsch said he is hoping to see Jobkeeper extended in places like Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays because it will take time for tourism to bounce back.

“But having said that, Jobkeeper alone is not going to sustain these businesses, what is going to sustain them is opening up and inviting people back.

Mr Entsch implored everyone to hang in there.

“You have a fabulous product and a fabulous region, and we are doing everything we can to get those doors open as soon as possible.”

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