Theme parks’ restart a sign virus rollercoaster is slowing
Fiona Carruthers

Queensland’s beleaguered tourism industry took a significant step forward on Wednesday with the reopening of the Dreamworld and WhiteWater World theme parks – two of the Gold Coast’s most popuar attractions.

Coming a day after South Australia reopened its borders to the ACT, it was another positive sign for business as more states begin to ease restrictions.

Dreamworld mascot Kenny the koala jumps for joy at the reopening of the Gold Coast theme park on Wednesday.  Getty

“Today is really just a day of celebration for everyone,” John Osborne, chief executive of Dreamworld and WhiteWater World said as he surveyed proceedings.

“The huge smiles on our team members’ faces just says it all. A feeling of relief and joy. I’ve been in the leisure industry for over 30 years, and I thought I’d seen it all until this.”

Wednesday saw good steady demand, with strong local support on display for both of the reopened parks. The parks had been closed since March 23, resulting in all but 100 of the 1000-strong workforce being stood down.

More than two-thirds of those workers are now back on the job, with the remainder set to rejoin the company as business ramps back up.

“Obviously, we’d love to have the border open because visitors from NSW and Victoria are critical to the tourism industry in south-east Queensland,” Mr Osborne said. “The sooner we can get the borders open the better. But having said that, we have to believe Queensland’s Chief Health Officer and government are in possession of all the facts.

“Our view is it’s best to co-operate to do whatever we can to ensure the number of cases of COVID reduce,” he said, adding that included ensuring the theme parks’ “COVID-19-safe business plan was properly administered”.

Mr Osborne flagged precautions against COVID-19 would now comprise a “significant annual cost” to his business “in the range of six figures”.

COVID-19 means factoring in extra staff, increased cleaning, plus sanitiser stations and other hygiene measures.

A healthy (socially distanced) queue to gain admission to Dreamworld had formed by 10am.  Getty

The Gold Coast is still a long way from being out of the woods. As one of the country’s premier tourist destinations, it is used to welcoming 10 million travellers each year.

But Destination Gold Coast says the city remains on track to lose thousands more jobs before the end of the year, and chalk up between $3.3 billion to $4.3 billion in lost income.

Dreamworld and WhiteWater World usually welcome about 1.5 million visitors each year, but 2020 will be a far cry from that.

To stimulate business, the theme parks dropped the price of an annual pass for locals to $99 (down from $139). Passes for interstate visitors remain priced at $179 for now, while a one-day pass is $89.

“We took down the price for locals in recognition people have been waiting for this and are keen to support us,” Mr Osborne said.

The mood on the Gold Coast might remain fairly sombre, but the tourism industry boasted a lot of resilience, he said.

“Everyone is determined to get through to the other end and continue to prosper.

“We are taking it to some extent in our stride, knowing there’s nothing we can do to change the situation. You do the best you can.”

Given attractions such as Dreamworld and WhiteWater World have an economic multiplier factor of about four times (in terms of generating business for surrounding hotels, restaurants and other tourism providers), it is at least finally a strong green shoot for the Goldie.

Fiona Carruthers is the travel editor. She was Traveller deputy travel editor and has written extensively, including for The Sunday Times, Financial Times and Time, and produced travel features for ABC Radio National and Deutsche Welle. Connect with Fiona on Twitter. Email Fiona at fcarruthers@afr.com

Introducing your Newsfeed

Follow the topics, people and companies that matter to you.

Find out more

Read More

Read More

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here