TOWNSVILLE, AAP – North Queensland tourism operators expect thousands of jobs to go by the end of the year, according to research from the Tourism and Transport Forum.

The industry formerly supported 15,750 full and part-time staff in the Cairns region prior to the pandemic, but 3600 permanent staff have lost their job as of July 2021, with a further 3000 expected in the coming months.

Lockdowns across Australia have hindered the regions temporary emergence last year, when visitors made Cairns the most popular flight destination late in 2020.

Mark Olsen from Tourism Tropical North Queensland says the loss of commonwealth support and ongoing lockdowns continue to cripple a once-thriving industry.

“The region grew its workforce across the entire supply chain ready for a busy winter, but now these new recruits, including more than 200 from the tourism industry, who have been in training for months are being told to find other work,” the CEO said.

“Government needs to understand how significant this impact will be on our community where one in five jobs have depended on tourism.”

Mr Olsen says Tropical North Queensland will remain one of the most impacted regions in Australia, labelling the tourism industry’s outlook as “grim”.

“Our region has had just 27 days straight without the impacts of a lockdown in key domestic markets in the past 18 months,” he said.

“That period in May was the busiest the Cairns and Great Barrier Reef region had been since before the pandemic as we are the most Googled regional destination for Australian holidaymakers.

“However, the stop/start impact of southern lockdowns shutting the destination out of key markets is difficult for businesses to manage, particularly with staffing levels.

“Most businesses are running at less than five per cent of their normal revenues … and more than $20 million in postponed events for July and August.

The region also dealt with its own snap three-day lockdown early in August after a taxi driver was infectious in the community for 10 days.

No cases were recorded but local business operators say the impact has been felt throughout all sectors.

“We’re not used to it up here. Everyone stayed at home with foot traffic to a minimum,” Mooz cafe operator Anton Rafferty told AAP.

“The city is slowly bouncing back with visitors from the region, but it will continue to struggle without the domestic market’s support.”