Eungella Chalet manager Tess Ford. Picture: Melanie Whiting
Eungella Chalet manager Tess Ford. Picture: Melanie Whiting

‘Booming season’: Tourism bright spot in Mackay Whitsundays

While border shutdowns crippled Queensland’s tourism industry last year, one Eungella operator says business has been booming since the second half of 2020.

Eungella Chalet manager Tess Ford said while the state lockdown in May was tough, things had been looking up for the mist-shrouded tourism hot spot ever since.

“A lot of people during that time were locked down,” Ms Ford said.

“But as Queensland started to open up again, the first weekend that we could actually let people eat in here, we did 300 meals.

“We were having to ask people to leave so we could fill the table again.

“People were so sick of being cooped up that they were like, ‘Oh my god let’s get out’.”

Eungella Chalet. Picture: Melanie Whiting
Eungella Chalet. Picture: Melanie Whiting

This trend continued over the Christmas break, with the chalet serving up about 350 meals on a good day.

Ms Ford said international border closures meant tourists from the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane had opted to explore their own backyards rather than go overseas.

And even Mackay visitors – who had previously been difficult to attract to Eungella – had decided to make the drive up, she said.

“I have had people come up to the bar and say ‘I’ve lived in Mackay for 20 years and have never been here’,” Ms Ford said.

“As far as I’m concerned, here at the chalet it’s a holistic approach in that if people walk in the door here, it’s my job to tell them about things to do in Eungella.

“I think last year was a bit of a booming season.”

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The rolling green hills of Eungella. Picture: Mackay Tourism
The rolling green hills of Eungella. Picture: Mackay Tourism

But while Eungella could be considered a bright spot for the region, places like the Whitsundays continue to struggle.

Airlie Beach’s Backpackers by the Bay hostel co-owner Carolyn Upton said “huge numbers” of international tourists were leaving the area because of a lack of jobs.

Mrs Upton said JobKeeper should “absolutely” be extended again.

“Most of the (Whitsunday) businesses had a reasonably good end of year from the September school holidays onwards,” she said.

“But what normally happens during the wet season is visitor numbers drop off again.”

Earlier this week, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it would be a “mistake” for the Federal Government to end JobKeeper before international borders were able to reopen.

“Regions such as Cairns, the Whitsundays and the Gold Coast that rely on tourism will be worst hit,” she said.

“I’m calling on the Prime Minister, as a matter of urgency, to consider extending JobKeeper for the industries doing it tough.”

Meanwhile, Dawson MP George Christensen is continuing his push for not only an extension to the JobKeeper program for struggling tourism operators, but greater access to the Federal Government’s JobMaker program.

He said this would mean tourist operators could hire new employees to further rebuild their industry.

Mr Christensen wrote to the Treasurer two weeks ago outlining the measures he was advocating for Whitsunday tourism operators.

“I’ve been in regular contact with tourism businesses and their representative groups about the devastating effects of border closures, both international and domestic, due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Dawson MP said.

“The reality is that many tourism businesses are still struggling financially, and the latest closure to NSW just before Christmas was devastating for them.”

Mr Christensen said his letter to the Treasurer requested two things – a targeted extension of the JobKeeper program for businesses that are still experiencing a 30 per cent downturn or more, and for tourism businesses who have workers on JobKeeper to also have access to JobMaker.

JobMaker is the incentive program to hire young jobseekers aged 16 to 35.

Currently, a business cannot apply for JobMaker while they are on JobKeeper.

Earlier this week, Whitsunday MP Amanda Camm said any further extension of the JobKeeper payment should be targeted to ensure it is channelled to those who need it.

My Town is about telling the stories of Mackay and surrounds that matter to you.
My Town is about telling the stories of Mackay and surrounds that matter to you.

This story was thanks to the My Town series – a Daily Mercury and Mackay Regional Council initiative.

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