I was expecting a tale of woe and worry but what I got was remarkably up-beat.
2020 was, of course, a year when “the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.”
Take travel, for example. Shirley and I were due to travel to Paris and Normandy (via Taiwan) in 2020 – but that was not to be.
Meanwhile, in my role as a journalist I was getting lots of stories from Queensland tourism leaders saying that border closures by our state were decimating the industry, and the whole sector was facing wrack and ruin.
So when our overseas airfares were refunded, we decided to take the cash that we would have spent, and splash it around our home state.
Instead of flying to Cairns (as we normally would) we decided to drive – staying in 7 towns and visiting a half-dozen more in our 4,000-kilometer 13-day road trip – and seeking the views of locals in the tourism industry as we visited their regions.
As I say, I expected to hear lots of unhappiness and anger (as outlined by the industry’s leaders.) But what I got was much more nuanced than that.
One motelier, for example, told me there were only two spare rooms in her establishment – and she was fully booked out for the six weeks after we were there. Another said he had never had a busier first six months of the financial year.
Then there was the couple who had signed a lease on their new ‘gourmet hot dog and donut shoppe’ in the heart of a tourist town – just 2 weeks before the Covid-19 shutdowns began.
Of course, all their cashflow projections would have been based on the expected influx of tourists from interstate and overseas … tourists that simply never arrived in Airlie Beach.
But as I understand it, they survived with the support of locals. The entire community came together to back each other as best they could – and people adapted. Rather than hire outside contractors to refurbish their new business, for example, the couple involved staggered the revamp of their shop during the worst of the downturn.
Of course, by the time we were in their town, so were other tourists. With the state’s borders still closed, apparently there were quite a few people like us who decided to holiday close to home.
That doesn’t mean that things were back to normal, though. Further north, Cardwell would normally have been jumping with interstate tourists in the weeks before Christmas – but there were only a handful while we were there.
And Sarina was like a ghost town as we began our journey south again.
But there, and in Bowen, and in Townsville, and in Gympie, and in all the places we stayed or strayed, the locals were doing their best to weather the storm.
Yes, there were shops that had closed and looked unlikely to reopen. A cafe in one town, for example, had suffered a fire a few weeks earlier. In normal times, work would have been feverishly underway to reopen and catch the tourist trade. But there was no sign of such work – and other locals suggested it was unlikely that the cafe-and-second-hand-record-store (which had a clear tourist cachet) would be trading any time soon.
In other towns, the tempo was slower than in other years. In fact, they reminded me of Port Douglas in February – which all but closes for the month.
But hope springs eternal, I think. Virtually every one of the business owners and hospitality workers I spoke to seemed prepared to ride it out – and to believe that things WILL get better.
Which is pretty much all that any of us can do, in uncertain times.
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