Visitor numbers high despite lockdowns

The Warwick Visitor Information Centre saw more visitors in July 2021 than in July 2020, but less than in July 2019.

By Jess Baker

Despite Queensland’s border restrictions and ongoing Covid-19 lockdowns, the Southern Downs remains a tourist hotspot.

According to recent visitor figures tabled at Southern Downs Regional Council’s meeting of 25 August, the Granite Belt is faring particularly well at present.

“Accommodation businesses are still extremely busy with above average numbers across the Granite Belt,” the report read.

“Visitors are still encouraged to book in advance for meals and wine tasting experiences to avoid disappointment. The local tour companies are also very busy with weekend tourists.”

The Stanthorpe Visitor Information Centre recorded 2965 visitors in July this year, compared to 3568 in July last year, and 2519 in July 2019.

Last July was the visitor information centre’s biggest month recorded since 2014.

Owner of popular accommodation and dining venue Granite Belt Retreat and Brewery, Geoff Davenport, said Queensland’s recent decision to close its borders had a minimal impact on business.

While numbers were higher in August and September last year than they were for the same months this year, Geoff said they remained strong.

“We’ve had a few people cancel (due to lockdowns) but nothing major,” Geoff said.

“Weekends are typically 100 per cent occupancy. Midweeks are pretty good at 70 to 80 per cent.

“Normally it goes down to between 40 and 50 per cent midweek in September.”

Geoff said August was also a successful month for Granite Belt Retreat, with occupancy at about 90 per cent after South East Queensland residents exited a brief one-week lockdown on 8 August.

“It’s good to see that Queenslanders are rediscovering Queensland,” he said.

The business has had to take on additional staff, including housekeepers and kitchen and wait staff, to keep up with the surge in demand it has experienced since Queensland’s first lockdown was lifted mid last year.

Warwick, whilst on paper not hosting as many tourists as is usual for this time of year, is anecdotally also seeing an increase.

According to a report tabled at SDRC’s August meeting, the Warwick Visitor Information Centre recorded more visitors this July than it did last year, but less than it did in 2019.

This July, the visitor information centre recorded 2701 visitors, compared to 1231 in July last year and 3437 in July 2019.

Council officers attributed the low numbers to Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, explaining a majority of visitors to the Warwick centre in July this year were from Queensland.

“As we headed into the region’s peak season partnered with events running across Warwick, Killarney and Allora, we saw below average visitor numbers in the Warwick Visitor Information Centre,” the report read.

“This was due to Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions occurring in South East Queensland and New South Wales which have impacted on visitation numbers.”

Contrary to the visitor information centre, some Warwick accommodation providers claim to have seen an increase in visitor numbers in recent times.

Owner of the historic 120-year-old Abbey Boutique Hotel, formerly Abbey of the Roses, Sonia Hunt said 100 per cent of rooms were currently occupied on weekends, while 25 to 30 percent of rooms were occupied during the week.

“It’s actually a bit more than normal,” Sonia said.

“(Our guests are) all Queenslanders, because (they) recently can’t travel across the border and they still want to travel. It’s good that we’re still open.”

Sonia said many of her guests reside in Brisbane or the Gold Coast and travelled to Warwick to enjoy attractions like Morgan Park and Queen Mary Falls, as well as to relax.

She said that while snap lockdowns across Queensland do impact accommodation providers like herself, they were important to keeping Southern Downs residents safe and businesses in operation.

“When lockdowns happen people of course cancel and then they’re nervous to rebook. It takes them a while to rebuild confidence,” Sonia said.

“But we are 100 per cent behind lockdowns … Life’s more important than money.”