Bowen Chamber of Commerce chairman Bruce Hedditch says the hospitality and retail sectors are battling the impacts of coronavirus.
Bowen Chamber of Commerce chairman Bruce Hedditch says the hospitality and retail sectors are battling the impacts of coronavirus. Cameron Laird

‘Helpless’: Businesses feel frightening effect of virus

AS THE government highlights the importance of social distancing, cafes sit empty and hotel bookings are cancelled, with businesses in Bowen beginning to feel the "frightening" impact COVID-19 is having on the region.  

Chamber of Commerce chairman Bruce Hedditch said the hospitality and retail industries in the region were "bearing the brunt", as people avoided public places and travel.

"The impact currently being felt by the business community in Bowen is frightening and we seem helpless to fight the impact," he said.

"It appears the hospitality industry together with the retail sector is bearing the brunt with numerous cancellation of events but we are also witnessing a sharp decline in consumer spending.

"The consumer is worried and they are very reluctant to visit public places or spend and you can understand why."

Rose Bay Resort owner Paul McLaughlin said he was staying positive and although the "mass cancellations" would mean a slow few months, there was an opportunity to focus on those who were already in the country.

"The positive side is, when this is all over a whole lot of people are going to really need a break," he said.

"We took a mass hit with cancellations, we are going to see a slower winter but there is an opportunity for us.

"There are a lot of travelers left in Australia who have had to cancel international travel plans, and it's about encouraging them to travel, to travel to Bowen."

Mr McLaughlin said 200 room nights at the resort had been cancelled in the past two weeks.

In February, the majority of cancellations were international travellers but over the past few weeks the cancellations had come from domestic travellers, mostly within the drive market, Mr McLaughlin said. 


Source - World Health Organization, Johns Hopkins, other media


Though COVID-19 was "no doubt"  a concern, Mr McLaughlin said the financial uncertainty of the future was a greater worry to many travellers. 


"There's no doubt there's a concern among travellers about COVID-19 but a lot of our market are concerned about the uncertain economy," he said. 


"The uncertain financial market is making people rethink holidays.


"Should we go on holidays or save our dollars?"


Mr Hedditch was hopeful that businesses in Bowen would find support in government packages aimed towards assisting small businesses to get through the difficult period. 


"Fortunately the federal and state governments have identified the impact that will confront small business and the packages being offered will help weather the storm," he said. 


Mr McLaughlin said he was thankful for the work local tourism companies were putting in, working to highlight the importance of travelling and supporting local communities.


"It's great to see Tourism Whitundays and Greater Whitsundays working on plans to limit the impact on us," he said.  


"They're working on plans focusing on the drive market, they've got the 'we pledge local' campaign, focusing on supporting local communities."


While the full extent of what's to come is unknown, and Mr Hedditch said as the crisis continued it was up to the Bowen residents and businesses to unite. 


"None of us have ever before witnessed the ramifications of this type of virus and the impact that is confronting our society," he said. 


"This crisis will be overcome but only if we as individuals and businesses unite to protect our community."