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General News

28 August, 2022

Tourists flood back to the region

TOURISM is booming again on the Tablelands now that Covid travel restrictions have eased up and domestic and international tourists taking the trip up the hill once again for a unique country experience.

By Ellie Fink

Hot Air Cairns has been hosting hot air balloon flights over Mareeba for several years, offering quick flights for up to 200 passengers a day to longer flights with only 20 passengers.
Hot Air Cairns has been hosting hot air balloon flights over Mareeba for several years, offering quick flights for up to 200 passengers a day to longer flights with only 20 passengers.

Although local tourist attractions have seen a new wave of international tourists coming in, numbers are still yet to meet pre-Covid levels. 

Hot Air Cairns has been hosting hot air balloon flights over Mareeba for several years, offering quick flights for up to 200 passengers a day to longer flights with only 20 passengers. 

Deputy chief pilot Frank Bouwer said he was still fortunate to have a market during some of tourism’s worst years. 

“We were fairly fortunately after we went into lockdown in March 2020, we were allowed to start flying again in September,” he said. 

“We are now a quarter of the size of what we were pre-Covid, but we just keep ticking along and giving people the best experience we can.” 

Pre-Covid, Asian and Indian tourists made up the majority of Hot Air’s clients but with the state of world affairs, that market had decreased. To adapt to the change, the company has redesigned their product to suit the new thriving local market.

 “Our market has completely changed from what we had pre-Covid. We had a predominantly Asian and Indian market and we used to fly much shorter trips which many more passengers,” Mr Bouwer said. 

“During Covid we had a lot of domestic tourism, and we began to change our product to suit the Australian market and it is a much better product now with much longer flights and our passengers love it.

“A lot of people who fly with us now are actually locals and it is great to see them pointing out their homes and their cars to others. These folks join us at the Heritage Museum at 5.30am and come along with us for the ride. “We wouldn’t be still here today if it wasn’t for the support of the locals.” 

Information Centres throughout the region have welcomed a variety of new faces through their doors to discover more about the region. 

Contrary to belief, local visitor centres have even seen an increase in visitors since Covid, breaking record numbers. Mareeba Heritage Museum and Visitor Information Centre manager Janet Greenwood said numbers had increased drastically due to a change in traveller profiles, with the centre seeing more self-driving Australian tourists. 

“Last financial year, we had 83,000 visitors through our front door,” she said. “That is approximately 30,000 more visitors than pre-Covid figures, which is a huge increase.” 

Mr Bouwer and Ms Greenwood’s comments were echoed by Tourism Atherton Tablelands chair Eddie Nye who believes domestic tourism is the main visitor market right now. 

He said Covid had really driven local people to discover their “own backyards” and support their local tourist spots. 

Although there has not been a significant return in the Chinese market, Mr Nye explained there has been a large number of tourists from other corners of the globe. 

Chasing that “Aussie outback experience”, Americans and Europeans are the latest market coming to the Far North with travel restrictions easing significantly more than Asian countries.

Mr Nye said he was glad to see the economy booming again thanks to the increase in tourists.

 “We are seeing a lot of domestic travellers coming up to the Tablelands as well as seeing a new market of international tourism come through,” he said. 

“We usually relied on the Chinese market but based on current global events, we are seeing more of an influx of American and European tourists coming through – particularly on working visas.” 

He also believes hot air ballooning over Mareeba is at the top of the bucket list for many and Hot Air is still a huge driver for tourism, specifically on the Tablelands. 

“Hot air ballooning is a big thing in Mareeba and a bucket list item for many people, including me, and Mareeba is the perfect place to do it,” he said. 

“The waterfall circuit is a big calling for a lot of tourists as well as experiencing indigenous culture. 

“There is quite a bit of drive in First Nations tourism right now with many people wanting to learn about their culture and ‘paddock to plate’ foods.”

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