By Jess Baker
For the first time in a long time, Stanthorpe’s Main Street is full – and the Chamber of Commerce says we have Covid-19 to thank.
President of the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce Graham Parker said international and state border closures have allowed local tourism to flourish, instilling confidence in businesses to invest in their own growth.
“In the 12-and-a-half years I’ve lived in Stanthorpe, I’ve never seen the street so full,” said Graham.
“It signifies to both me and to Chamber that our tourism industry and our businesses are doing really well.”
Reports from Stanthorpe’s Visitor Information Centre indicate increased visitation through the Covid-19 period has allowed Granite Belt businesses an opportunity to recover from the devastating effects of drought and bushfires.
The number of accommodation and experience bookings in the region continues to increase despite February usually being a slow time of the year, which has given existing businesses the means and confidence to expand and new businesses the ability to form and scale quickly.
“Right now, accommodation venues are 80 to 90 per cent booked… it’s unheard of,” said Graham.
“And they were completely full from September to December 2020, where previously they’d be 30 to 40 per cent full if we were lucky.”
Statistics show Stanthorpe virtually received the same number of visitors from rural and regional Queensland in the last seven months of 2020 (June to December) as it did in the whole of 2019.
Graham said the surge in tourism comes down to one simple fact: “we’re in a goldilocks zone”.
“The abandonment of international travel has forced people to look local and spend their money on domestic products,” he said.
“But the key to our growth has been the fact we’re within Brisbane’s 250 kilometre radius.
“Our challenge now is to build on the massive interest we’ve gained over the Covid period.”
Graham said he expects demand and tourism will taper off as restrictions ease and international travel begins to rebound, so it is important the Granite Belt makes a lasting impression on its new visitors.
“Our businesses – especially the ones on Main Street – are doing a great job,” he said.
“If they just continue doing what they’re doing I think that alone will bring people back.”
The speed and scale at which tourism in the Granite Belt has grown is extraordinary, and many businesses have had to morph and change to meet new demand.
“It’s been a difficult time for some due to the increased tourism,” said Graham.
“Some of the wineries I know have run out of wine.
“But everyone’s doing a great job and we get very little negative feedback despite being overworked right now.”
Some established businesses are under new ownership, while others have begun renovations. A number of new tourist-based businesses have opened up as well, such as Granite Belt Grazing Gals, Sabo on Severn and Kurrajong Cottages.
“For every one dollar that comes into town, my guess is that it circles around town four or five times,” said Graham.
“When you bring a new skillset to the region, it’s well patronised.”
Graham said all businesses in the region deserve a “huge congratulations” for their hard work and perseverance during these unprecedented times.