Tropical Cyclone Jasper has wreaked havoc across Far North Queensland, but for accommodation and tourism operators in the region, the natural disaster has come just as their industry recovers from the impacts of the pandemic.
On top of the damage to homes and infrastructure, the cancellations throughout the Far North in December were extensive said Accommodation Australia CEO, Michael Johnson. Occupancies dropped from mid-70 percent down to 30 percent, equating to millions of dollars of lost revenue at what is traditionally a busy time of year.
He said: “Far North Queensland suffered greatly during the pandemic and the recent destructive weather was another blow at the worst possible time.
The manager of Cayman Villas in Port Douglas Bryce Tozer revealed that business was significantly impacted by the cyclone, with three of their 3-bedroom villas suffering significant structural damage with collapsed ceilings and floor tiles suffering significant water damage.
Before the cyclone, Cayman Villas had an 80 percent occupancy rate for December that was quickly slashed to 15 percent as tourists cancelled holidays. With Port Douglas still suffering from water restrictions and road closures, Mr Tozer said he is worried that cancellations will continue through January and February.
“With a new cyclone brewing in the Gulf of Carpentaria, I think the cancellations will start to come again,” he warned.
The last few weeks has also been a challenging time for caravan park owners and operators across North Queensland.
However, Michelle Weston, CEO, Caravan Parks Association of Queensland (CPAQ) said members have worked hard to clean up their caravan parks following the cyclone and associated flooding to ensure they don’t need to cancel any bookings.
“Despite this, many have experienced high levels of cancellations with visitors assuming there is more damage than the parks experienced,” she said.
“It is fantastic to see the strong government support with subsidised flights however Tropical North Queensland traditionally has a strong drive market, and it is critical work is done to ensure there is no loss of this market, especially in the peak winter months.
For industry businesses impacted by this weather event, or any of the other weather events Australia experienced this summer, there are supports available and we strongly encourage them to get in touch with their industry body and regional tourism organisation as we will be able to help connect you with funding and support services.
Accor Pacific Chief Operating Officer Adrian Williams said while Cyclone Jasper brought disruptions to the accommodation industry in Far North Queensland, he was proud of Accor’s teams for working tirelessly to ensure guests were well taken care of.
“We’re heartened to report that all our properties have rapidly resumed normal operations, and the outlook for future bookings is good. We would like to thank the Australian and Queensland Governments for providing vital financial assistance to support the recovery of tourism in the region,” he added.
Mr Johnson also applauded the $5m Federal and Queensland State government package.
“It is great news for the area and we thank them for it,” he said. All tourism operators are back operating daily on the reef and with discounted airfares and accommodation there is no better time to go and experience this stunning location and what it has to offer.”
He added: “Cairns looks like it will recover quickly, but areas to the north, particularly Port Douglas, have been affected by the closure of the Cook Highway which is set to reopen on January 20.
Trevor Rawnsley, the CEO of the Australian Resident Accommodation Managers Association (ARAMA) said that while the cyclone has had a significant impact on ARAMA members across Far North Queensland, he has found that many members are keen to “get on with the job”.
“Our members are generally quite stoic and there’s a tendency to ‘just get on with the job’, whether that’s helping clear rubbish after the storm on Christmas night or helping out their neighbours, they’re just getting on with it,” Mr Rawnsley said.
“In Far North Queensland, cyclones and flash flooding are not unusual but it’s certainly not pleasant when it affects you. When you don’t have power for five days and you’re having to relocate tenants or tourists are stuck and you’re bringing them into your own home, these are all things that our members are dealing with.”
However, Mr Rawnsley said that operators are struggling with balancing their workload with significantly reduced cash flow.
“As operators recover from the cyclone, there’s an untold number of additional tasks they’re doing, but they’re not bringing any money in,” Mr Rawnsley explained.
“Obviously wet season is generally a slower season for these operators, but what guests they did have booked in have cancelled.
“So it has very similar overtones to COVID when we had border closures. For the operators that lived through that, it’s very reminiscent of that time. And for operators who bought post-COVID, this is their first experience of a natural disaster and they are struggling.”
The recently announced $5M tourism support package has been welcomed by ARAMA, but Mr Rawnsley said he was in discussions to see what more could be done to support its members.
“However, the biggest hurdle facing operators is paying wages and retaining staff, they don’t want to retrench staff because there’s no wages. So we’re talking to the state government about providing some income support for employees.”
Additionally, Mr Rawnsley said he would like to see the Cairns-Port Douglas ferry subsidised to encourage tourists to visit Port Douglas while the Captain Cook Highway remains closed.
For ARAMA members, Mr Rawnsley encourages anyone struggling to reach out for support.
Particularly, he encourages members to utilise their free mental health assistance program ARAMA A-MAP. As for the wider community, Mr Rawnsley said the best thing to do is to book a holiday to Far North Queensland to support local businesses.
“As for community support, coming up to Far North Queensland and spending money is the best thing you can do right now,” he said. “So if you’ve got the kids on school holidays and you’re looking for something to do, consider booking a holiday to Cairns and Port Douglas.
“Yes, it’s raining but it’ll be a bit of an adventure, you can have a great holiday and save a heap of money while supporting the economy in those regions.”
Sarah is a freelance journalist with experience across print, digital and audio. After working for Multimedia Publishing as a contributing writer, she has recently joined the team in a part-time capacity for School News AU and AccomNews.