Open Borders: How do businesses feel?


Paul Bugeja

Guest Columnist

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Kate Sheehan, Loni, and the team at Sparrow are preparing for a possible influx of visitors when more borders open up. Image: Paul Bugeja.
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As border reopenings appear imminent, Douglas businesses are preparing, so in a three part series Newsport spoke to a few to see how they feel December (and beyond) might look like for them and the Shire.

Queensland has had its borders bolted shut for most of 2020.

This has had the positive effect of keeping Queensland virtually COVID-free, allowing its residents to live relatively unobstructed lives, free of the lockdowns and restrictions that our southern cousins have had to bear.

Unfortunately for many, the hard border has come at great economic cost, particularly for a tourism-driven region like the Shire.

But this looks set to change, and maybe as soon as December 1.

With most other states, Victoria included, now posting days or weeks of zero (or very low-level, mostly hotel quarantine) infections, the divided states of Australia will soon be one again.

For regions like the Shire where the existential threat of COVID-19 feels a far-off nightmare, COVID-safe measures such as hand hygiene and social distancing have become less prevalent as the fear of infection has subsided.

A potential influx of interstate travellers means a return to something more like normal for the Shire will be greeted with relief and bring many benefits. However, given the virus can be asymptomatic, and therefore still contagious even without any outward symptoms, this influx also poses both risks and challenges.

In part one of our businesses and border series we spoke to Sparrow in Port Douglas to see how they see the unfolding situation and what they will do as more visitors return to the Shire.

The Cafe: Sparrow

For many Port locals, Sparrow on Macrossan is their go-to coffee place, not only because it opens super-early (6am for us larks) and serves one of the best coffees in the Shire, but also because of the warm, genuine welcome you receive when you arrive for your hit of java each morning from its super-friendly baristas.

When the first round of COVID-19 restrictions were brought in, Sparrow was onto it, abiding by the regulations to the letter.

“The biggest change we saw,” says Kate Sheehan, one of the regular smiling-faced baristas who keep the coffees flowing, “has definitely been a decline in sales, which I'm sure has been the case for most local businesses. Luckily we have a great local base and have had lots of support from Queensland holidaymakers.”

With the potential opening up of borders, Sparrow is preparing for a possible influx of out-of-towners.

“In an average year,” Kate offers, “people from Melbourne and Sydney are our biggest clientele. We are hoping that with the border opening, all Port Douglas businesses will get a lot busier. As for daily operations, we will continue to maintain our strict COVID safe measures but may extend our opening hours.”

With hand sanitiser at the ready, cashless transactions, using takeaway cups only (no keep cups for now, unfortunately, but these are the COVID-safe rules!) and QR check-in code for anyone wanting to enjoy their coffee at the outside tables, the team are ready to roll. They may also bring in “stand here” signs if patronage gets to a point where queues require such.

And if the whispers Kate is hearing are right, this might be necessary.

“We have heard from many of our loyal, returning customers who live in the southern states, and they are telling us that they do not care whether it is wet season or not, they're coming up to Port Douglas. I have also spoken to a lot of Queensland tourists that have either never been to Port Douglas or have not visited Port Douglas for years, and have been inspired to since international travel isn't an option right now. So fingers crossed!”

As someone who grew up in Port, Kate is saddened to see the town having gone through such a tough time but is hopeful things are on the improve.

“I would love to see the borders open and to feel the buzz about Macrossan street again,”are Kate’s final words.

And it increasingly (hopefully!) looks like she may get her way.

See how other businesses feel in part two of the series in coming days.

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