TROPHY tourism to fancy destinations such as Paris and Morocco is being replaced by holidays closer to home in the age of COVID-19.

That is good news for struggling tourism operators looking to survive the shutdown of international travel, according to industry leaders who gathered at the Queensland Cricketers' Club for a lunch hosted by BDO and QBM.

Norton Rose Fulbright partner Tom Young says destinations such as Qualia on Hamilton Island are doing well as cash-up tourists looks for an alternative to international holidays.

"Trophy tourism used to be the big overseas trip to Paris but now people are spending 40 grand on a holiday at Qualia," says Young. "I was surprised by the number of yachts at the Quila marina recently."

Young says that even with the boost to local tourism, many small operators will probably not survive the pandemic. "How long will the government kick the can down the road in terms of JobKeeper?" he says. "Tourism is a very competitive market."

Star Entertainment chief casino officer Geoff Hogg says that with international travel unlikely to restart until late 2021 domestic tourism was going to become increasingly important.

Hogg says there needs to be a national approach to state border controls to allow people to travel around as long as any spike in the virus outbreaks can be managed.

"Queensland needs people from Sydney and Melbourne to get tourism going," says Hogg. "New Zealand also needs to open up."

Qualia resort on Hamilton Island.
Qualia resort on Hamilton Island.

He says when international travel does recover, Australia will be well placed as it will be considered a safer destination than many other countries. People have to be confident to fly but at the moment they are only comfortable getting into a car.

Former test cricketer and now chairman of Sportcor Michael Kasprowicz says sport will play a key role in the recovery from COVID-19. "The role of sport is to bring people together - from small towns to big arenas," says Kasprowicz.

But he says the cost of the pandemic will take its toll on funding channels for all sports, particularly those that have to establish hubs for players. "Unfortunately community sport is the loser in these situations," says Kasprowicz..

Supercars general manager Tracey Woodbry says racing teams had operated from a hub on the Gold Coast during the shutdown which had meant drivers and support staff being away from their families for 10 weeks. "The focus has been on mental health during this challenging time," she says. Events such as Bathurst were proceeding but with reduced crowd numbers.

BDO associate director Will Tuffley says the recovery from the pandemic could be a positive in terms of community support for club and local sport.

"People want to get back and support their local community," says Tuffley, pointing to the run of victories by Queensland sporting teams following the 2011 floods.

Gold Coast Titans director Ned Pankhurst says he is a supporter of border controls because at least it gave businesses some certainly about the prevention of major outbreaks.

Commonwealth Bank executive Tom Hession says the operators that will survive the pandemic are the ones that have sustainable business models.

"Venues are adapting and becoming more efficient," says Hession. "Technology is being deployed in pubs so people can preorder drinks and don't have to line up at the bar 12 deep."

Originally published as Forget Paris, try the Whitsundays

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