Tourism operators fear slow Christmas as Qantas disputes cause disruptions

IT HAS been a tough nine months for Adam Karras and Katrina Knowles, owners of the Elandra Resort at Mission Beach in north Queensland.

IT HAS been a tough nine months for Adam Karras and Katrina Knowles, owners of the Elandra Resort at Mission Beach in north Queensland.

When cyclone Yasi hit in February, they were forced to shut down for several weeks while they cleaned up. When they re-opened in April, they could only salvage 21 of the 55 rooms.

Now the Qantas strike is piling on the pressure and uncertainty, as it is for hundreds of smaller travel businesses in the state and throughout the country.

”We’ve had about a dozen guests postpone their travels in the past nine days,” Mr Karras told the Herald. ”People aren’t cancelling, but they don’t want to spend their precious holiday time stranded at an airport. They want to wait for a clear outcome before they come here.”

It takes guests 1½ hours to reach the resort from Cairns airport. Usually it is fully booked from May to September, but even with fewer rooms, occupancy is down at least 20 per cent on last year.

And without a resolution to Qantas’s woes, it could be a slow Christmas.

The chief executive of the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, Daniel Gschwind, said the Qantas dispute was ”another storm cloud that we don’t need”.

”We are not only concerned about the cancelled flights, we’re concerned about spooking the consumers into not booking their summer holidays.”

Another senior travel industry source said: ”There would be thousands of husband and wife businesses that just wouldn’t be turning a profit right now [in Queensland] ? It doesn’t mean they are about to go bankrupt but many have shut their doors or stopped doing anything, so it is a very serious situation for us.”

Tony O’Connor, the owner of Kookaburra Tours and Charters in Townsville, lost four out of six daily tours when disaster struck the region earlier this year. Now he has re-built capacity, but he too is worrying about the added impact of the Qantas row.

”If I was a traveller, I would be worried about being stranded at an airport with my family around Christmas time, so I understand the public perception,” he said.

”People are finding better value overseas, rather than in north Queensland. We’ve already had a battering with natural disasters; we don’t need man-made disasters to trouble us,” he said.

The chief executive of the Tourism and Transport Forum, John Lee, said Queensland operators were experiencing a 5 per cent to 8 per cent softening with future bookings, with regional areas the major concern.

Last week the chairman of online airfare retailer Webjet, David Clarke, wrote to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, warning that the Qantas industrial action was having a ”snowballing” effect on the travel industry.

He said Webjet had seen a ”very significant drop” in Qantas bookings over the preceding 10 days.

”With the Australian tourism industry already fragile as a consequence of the Queensland floods and other factors, this additional disruption has the potential to cause economic peril for much of ? the industry,” he warned.