Brisbane’s COVID lockdown sees exodus from NSW North Coast
Brisbane tourists holidaying in Byron Bay began their homeward journey hours before their three-day lockdown started at 7pm (AEDT).
- One-third of all visitors to northern NSW are from south-east Queensland — particularly Brisbane
- Hotel managers say guests have been surprised at the suddenness of the three-day lockdown for Brisbane, with many choosing to head home on Friday
- Hotel staff are becoming used to changing COVID situations
The drive to Brisbane is only two hours away, putting far north coast New South Wales high on the list of a holiday destination for those from the sunshine state.
Destination North Coast (NSW) chairman Cameron Arnold said this latest lockdown would hit hard.
“One-third of all visitors come to this part of NSW from south-east Queensland, particularly Brisbane,” Mr Arnold said.
Here we go again
Phones were ringing hot on Friday morning for Colin Hussey who runs A Perfect Stay, a company specialising in holiday accommodation mostly for families.
A week ago the Victoria border shutdown saw some of his guests drive up from Victoria only to immediately turn around and drive home in order to make the border closure in time.
“I just cannot imagine what that was like with a car full of kids, that must have been pretty traumatic, and then to be stuck at the (Victoria) border for a couple of hours,” Mr Hussey said.
The Queensland Government’s decision to go into hard lockdown in Brisbane brought new challenges.
“We have properties in Brisbane and we have guests who have just arrived with their kids but are wanting to turn around and leave and then we have guests from Brisbane who were due to arrive tomorrow but are now waiting to see what happens by Tuesday,” Mr Hussey said.
“It’s a bit like playing a game of Tetris — we have to move bookings if a guest wants to stay longer, we are juggling bookings, and often have nowhere to put them.
“Most are calling us and saying ‘We’ve got to get out’, obviously this lockdown is related to the UK strain and if that gets away then maybe they will be in lockdown for longer.”
Do lockdowns get easier for tourist operators?
Mr Hussey said the first lockdown was horrific, with irate guests and upset owners.
“I think with every subsequent lockdown people have gotten used to it and understand it’s not our fault, it’s not the government’s fault, it’s nobody’s fault and you just have to try to deal with it as best you can,” he said.
Most people now booked with the pandemic in mind, so were prepared for the situation to change rapidly.
But that was an enormous amount of work for accommodation businesses to deal with.
Mr Hussey said the need for adaption and the rate of change regarding restrictions and lockdowns was relentless and exhausting.
“We are running at 90 per cent plus occupancy since the end of August, which I suppose is a ‘good problem’ but a little break would be nice,” he said.
More than a hotel
The general manager of the luxury resort Elements at Byron, Michael Skinner, said he was surprised by the rapid lockdown decision but was ready to act.
“Queensland tends to react very quickly, different to NSW which seems to take a different approach and rely on contact tracing as an approach and are a little more business friendly, so it doesn’t surprise me that Queensland acted so quickly,” he said.
But the hotel was now well-versed in lockdown protocol.
“We have a fairly robust system. The first thing is we identify the location of where our guests are coming from and notify them,” he said.
Guests were told they needed to stay in isolation in their villa while the lockdown was in place and Mr Skinner said guests were ready to comply but most chose to get back to Brisbane.
“Generally speaking, most have indicated they wanted to return home and shortened their holiday,” he said.
“With Brisbane only a short drive it is probably better to get home than stay in hotel isolation.”
Mr Skinner said some people were quite anxious, but others took it in their stride.
Hotel staff are the go-to people in a crisis and this pandemic is no different.
Mr Skinner said his staff were getting questions about the future.
“Can I travel, where can I travel, when can I travel, what restrictions will I encounter? Hotels seem to always be called upon as a source of information but we only know and read the information that is there for everyone,” he said.
“That’s the funny thing, people see a hotel as being all things to all people.”