Queensland tourism and the law in the new normal

In 2019 Queensland tourism was booming – 2.76 million international visitors stayed an average of 20 nights and spent $6 billion, while 25.7 million interstate visitors stayed an average of four nights and spent $19 billion.1

Then COVID-19 shut international borders and the tourism industry had to quickly pivot and adapt, moving its focus to domestic tourism while also navigating restrictions with interstate borders.

Legal frameworks were very important during this time, in particular the Public Health Act 2005 (Qld) which provided emergency powers to respond to COVID-19. These included directions from the Chief Health Officer under s362B for physical distancing, size of gatherings, mandatory wearing of face masks and quarantine.2

While these legal restrictions were difficult for all Queenslanders, including tourism and hospitality operators, a June 2020 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) ranked Australia one of the world’s best performers in our policy response to the coronavirus compared to a number of OECD countries.3

This has not gone unnoticed by potential tourists. One very important group are international students who contribute in many ways to the Queensland economy, not just through their spending on education but also as temporary residents living in the community and as workers in industries such as hospitality.

Surveys show international students believe Australia has handled COVID-19 very well and they are keen to study here as soon as they can.4 Overall, international students see Australia as a safe and welcoming country, a position reinforced by the National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018, which obligates education providers to actively support student safety.5

Even before COVID-19, Queensland had an international reputation as a safe destination, as noted in a 2013 CSIRO report which found “on the world stage Queensland and Australia are politically, environmentally and socially stable with excellent health and hygiene standards”.6 Again, this situation is only possible by having sound legal frameworks.

In what has been described as the ‘new normal’, the World Travel & Tourism Council has emphasised that to achieve effective recovery of the tourism industry it is “paramount to have common rules” and to restore and maintain customer trust.7 This trust includes physical safety, emotional support, digital security, and financial stability.8

Queensland tourism is well positioned to demonstrate this trust to both domestic visitors and international tourists when borders reopen, based on an established track record of consumer protection laws. An example is the Tourism Services Act 2003 (Qld) and the Tourism Services (Code of Conduct for Inbound Tour Operators) Regulation 2003, which set out mandatory requirements for operators to act in an honest, fair and professional way.9

Recognising the importance of beaches to Queensland tourism, in November 2007 Queensland Law Society partnered with Surf Life Saving Queensland to host the inaugural Beach Safety and the Law National Summit.10 This summit consolidated the law relating to tourism and coastal zone management, explained the responsibilities of various stakeholders and included the observation by then Justice Margaret McMurdo AC that many visitors to Queensland may not be familiar with the ocean and therefore require additional assistance to keep them safe.11

Since then this assistance has been formalised in legislation, the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 (Qld)12 stating (inter alia):

“The main object of this Act is to ensure the health and safety of persons to whom recreational water activities are provided by a person conducting a business or undertaking by—

(a) Protecting the persons against harm to their health, safety and welfare through the elimination or minimisation of risks arising from the provision to them of recreational water activities; and

(b) Promoting the provision of advice, information, education and training for health and safety in relation to the provision of the recreational water activities.”

What this means is that a person carrying on a business within coastal and marine tourism has legal responsibilities to look after their customers, and there are clear guidelines for how this outcome can be achieved.

In the ‘new normal’, concerns about health and safety, along with trust and customer care, will remain critical issues for the tourism industry. Operators need to follow the industry COVID-Safe Plan13 and use the Check In Qld app,14 which is mandatory for a range of hospitality venues including restaurants, cafés, pubs, bars and nightclubs.

Increasing participation in outdoor activities and reconnecting with nature, in part a response to travel restrictions and COVID-19 lockdowns, will also see more tourists in unfamiliar environments and participating in unfamiliar activities, where they will need additional assistance.

Tourism is a very resilient industry and humans want to explore and experience their world. History shows that tourism will recover and rebound from the COVID-19 crisis, just as it has from previous global shocks.15

In the ‘new normal’, legal support with regulatory compliance, including permits and licences,16 staff training and accreditation, regular safety drills and audits, and importantly, safety briefings for customers (including safety communication in multiple languages if required) will ensure the Queensland tourism industry maintains its established safety reputation.

This is now more important than ever, with the announcement that Queensland will host the 2032 Olympic Games, boosting our tourism profile on the world stage.

Dr Jeff Wilks PhD is a consulting psychologist working in the field of tourist health, safety and wellbeing. He is also admitted to practice law in New South Wales. Jeff is involved in the design and evaluation of tourism safety programs and acts as an expert witness in tourism matters.

Footnotes
1 Tourism & Events Queensland. (2019). International Tourism Snapshot, year ending September 2019.
Domestic Tourism Snapshot, year ending September 2019.
2 State of Queensland, (2021). Public Health Act 2005.
3 Trade + Investment Queensland. (2020). Australia Ranked in Top Group in EIU’s Coronavirus Response Index.
4 QS Quacquarelli Symonds. (2020). APAC International Student Survey Report 2020, Vol 1: Destination Australia.
5 Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2018). National Code of Practice for Providers of Education and Training to Overseas Students 2018.
6 Hajkowicz SA, Cook H, Boughen N (2013). The Future of Tourism in Queensland. Megatrends creating opportunities and challenges over the coming twenty years. CSIRO.
7 World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC). (2020). ‘Safe Travels’: Global Protocols & Stamp for the New Normal.
8 Deloitte. (2020). The Future of Hospitality: Uncovering Opportunities to Recover and Thrive in the New Normal.
9 Tourism Services (Code of Conduct for Inbound Tour Operators) Regulation 2003.
10 Wilks, J. (Ed.) (2008). Beach Safety and the Law: Australian Evidence. Sydney: Surf Life Saving Australia.
11 McMurdo, M. (2008). Legal considerations for beach safety. In defence of the reasonableness of the law. In J. Wilks (Ed.), Beach Safety and the Law: Australian Evidence (pp. 21-30).Sydney: Surf Life Saving Australia.
12 State of Queensland. (2019). Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011.
13 Queensland Tourism Industry Council. (2021). Queensland Tourism and Accommodation Industry COVID-Safe Plan.
14 Queensland Government. (2021). Check In Qld app.
15 Wilks, J., Pendergast, D. & Leggat, P. (Eds.) (2006). Tourism in Turbulent Times: Towards Safe Experiences for Visitors. Elsevier.
16 Business Queensland. (2021). Licences, permits and legislation for tourism businesses.

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