WAITING: The Red Cat Adventures team is ready to go pending government decisions regarding easing COVID-19 restrictions. From left: Kerstin Altmann, Rebecca Crane, Jayden Popenko, JJ Johnsen, Julie Telford, Mark Huston, Chris Leverington and Tayla Johannesen.
WAITING: The Red Cat Adventures team is ready to go pending government decisions regarding easing COVID-19 restrictions. From left: Kerstin Altmann, Rebecca Crane, Jayden Popenko, JJ Johnsen, Julie Telford, Mark Huston, Chris Leverington and Tayla Johannesen.

NQ travel ‘bubble’ has support of tourism operators

BATTLING tourism operators in the Whitsundays have thrown their support behind a plan to create a travel bubble in North Queensland, which they say could make a "huge difference" to their recovery.

North Queensland tourism bodies, including the Whitsundays, Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and outback regions, have put forward a plan to introduce a travel "bubble" and encourage tourism in the regions.

They are pushing to reopen North Queensland and allow Queenslanders to travel within these areas by June 12, when Stage 2 COVID-19 restrictions start.

However, at present, the Queensland Government's three-stage roadmap to recovery only allows travel up to 150km away from home, and this is due to increase to 250km with stage two.

Red Cat Adventures owner Julie Telford said the bubble would make a huge difference, with 42 per cent of their domestic market coming from within Queensland last year.

"Having North Queensland properly opened to North Queenslanders in Stage 2 of relaxed restrictions would make a huge difference to us, and the Whitsundays overall," she said.

"If we can only open for people from a 250km radius around the Whitsundays, that doesn't give us much of a population pool - certainly nothing like the numbers available to our colleagues in the state's southeast.

"We respect, and have been fully compliant with, all the health advice, but if the volumes of people 250km will provide to SE Queensland are considered safe, why can't those same volumes be available to us?

"In regional Queensland, the only way to achieve that volume is by increasing the travel distance, which with no community transmission in North Queensland, should be perfectly safe to do."

Cumberland Charter Yachts CEO Sharon McNally also supports a travel bubble.

"We can support ourselves if we are able to get back to work," she said.

"We appreciate grants and JobKeeper but, the truth is, if we could open up Queensland we can get back to some normality and support ourselves.

"If we could have the same restrictions as the outback we would be in a much better position."

Whitsunday Segway Tours owner Zak Kelly said creating a NQ travel bubble would be great for helping tourism businesses such as his get back to operating again.

"North Queenslanders have been restricted with travel for about three months now and it would be great for people to get out and about in the Whitsundays and live again and realise how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful region," he said.

"About 50 per cent of my guests are from Queensland, particularly from North Queensland - it's a win-win for everyone."

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said she wanted to see North Queensland open "as soon as possible" and definitely before the winter school holidays, which was a crucial time for tourism businesses.

"The upcoming school holidays will be an opportunity for many tourism operators and, as such, they have been preparing their business to ensure they are COVID safe and adhere to the guidelines laid out by the federal government," she said.

"We need to see North Queensland reopen as soon as possible with a travel bubble, as well as fast-tracking our region to Stage 3 to enable businesses to reopen prior to these school holidays; it will be the start of what is needed to re-energise the North Queensland economy."

Earlier this week, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the plan seemed 'feasible'.

"I've asked them to submit a plan to the government, and I'll be able to get them a decision by the end of this month," she said.

"I look forward to seeing this plan. Sensible, measured steps is what we're looking for."

The Premier said the government was still reviewing restrictions at the end of every month and she was more than happy to speak to North Queensland tourism operators about the plan.

Ms Palaszczuk has come under criticism for suggesting last week that the Queensland border might not be reopened until September, just 10 days after she released a restrictions road map that detailed a proposed July 10 date.