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Regional businesses locked out from the rest of the country

Regional Queensland businesses locked out from the rest of the country are desperate for support if they are able to maintain their commitment to staff and championing Queensland tourism, retail and hospitality.

Cairns Chamber of Commerce and Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) are calling for the financial and emotional impact of COVID lockdowns and restrictions across state borders on regional Queensland business and consumer confidence to be recognised with support offered to those hardest hit.

Cairns Chamber of Commerce CEO Patricia O’Neill said tourism, hospitality and retail businesses in North Queensland had still not recovered from the financial and emotional impacts of COVID restrictions and lockdowns.

“We might be thousands of kilometers away from the hard lockdowns in other Australian states, but Far North Queensland businesses haven’t been spared the impact they have on business and consumer confidence,” Ms O’Neill said.

“These businesses and businesspeople are really hurting. They’ve had bookings cancelled, patron numbers significantly slashed, international tourism reduced to zero and domestic tourism take a massive hit. They are not in lockdown, but they’re locked out.

“We’re hearing from tourism operators they are losing between $3 million to $5 million a day. We have retailers reporting not a single transaction on their cash registers in a day.

“They need support now to ensure they’re able to maintain business operations, retain their commitment to staff and pay ongoing bills through this lockout, notwithstanding the need to get back to business and remain competitive in the future.”

Recent data from Tourism and Events Queensland shows Tropical North Queensland domestic visitation was down close to 40% in the year ending March, with expenditure down 9.4% in the same period.

Ms O’Neill said consumer confidence had taken a significant hit, with tourism, hospitality and retail businesses in particular struggling to generate pre-COVID demand levels.

“Tropical North Queensland and the businesses that have been championing this part of the country globally for generations are running the risk of not being around to welcome guests back once the country as well as the rest of the world re-opens for business.  These businesses want to do what they do best – but the tourists aren’t coming,” Ms O’Neill said.

“With international borders closed and many domestic markets either in lockdown or under restrictions, confidence to pack a bag and head to Far North Queensland for a holiday, to dine out or to go shopping is as low as it can go.

“These businesses need a commitment to support them financially now to ensure they’re able to continue the positive impact they make on the state’s economy.”

Cairns business owner Darren Barber operates Wolf Lane Distillery and Three Wolves Bar and said he expected COVID restrictions to have cost the business up to $750,000.

Mr Barber’s local bars have been reduced to 50% capacity for more than a year and his 1500 domestic venues and retail outlet customers had reduced demand for the business’ wholesale gin product. He said COVID restrictions and lockdowns in other parts of the country significantly impacted consumer confidence.

“It would be useful to have more transparency or some kind or time frame as to when restrictions would be lifted,” he said.

“Restricted numbers are our biggest challenge and not knowing when that will end.

“There is also a lot of consumer insecurity especially around jobs as we’re almost considered a luxury product.”

CCIQ Policy and Advocacy General Manager Amanda Rohan said it was essential for businesses to be afforded clarity in lockdown, border closure and restriction decision making to empower them to survive lockdowns, recover and be competitive and confident in the long term.

“Businesses across the state are relying on certainty to ensure they’re able to maintain resilience, both now and in the future when they’re able to get back to business,” Ms Rohan said.

“We know this uncertainty is damaging to business confidence and their ability to plan for the future so it’s essential they are afforded clarity in decision making as well as potential support.”

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