15 April 2024

Don't forget to visit us this tourist season: Cooktown chamber

| Lyndon Keane
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Cooktown Chamber of Commerce and Tourism president Russell Bowman says the town needs visitors to support the community this tourist season. Photo: Lyndon Keane.

Don’t allow closed Cape York tourist routes to let you forget about the Cooktown region this dry season.

That is the messaging being sounded from the rooftops by Cooktown Chamber of Commerce and Tourism president Russell Bowman, who said damage done to traditionally must-do roads in the wake of Tropical Cyclone Jasper had the potential to impact the local success of the 2024 tourist influx.

Some roads popular with four-wheel drivers and caravanners are expected to remain closed or have limited access for the remainder of the year, meaning the Mulligan Highway from Lakeland is likely to be the only way for Cape York visitors to get to Cooktown.

Mr Bowman said it remained to be seen what the flow-on effect would be for local business and tourism operators.

“I think it’s going to be a late start [to the tourist season] and one of the challenges in that late start is we just can’t get people up the coast road,” he explained.

“Are they going to take the diversion to travelling from Lakeland if they can’t go north out through Battle Camp and go out to Musgrave?

“History’s told us that they don’t like to travel over the same road twice, or backwards over the same road.”

READ ALSO TTNQ pushes for a longer tourist season in Cooktown

A business owner himself, Mr Bowman said a short 2023 tourist season and the post-Jasper flood devastation had put extreme pressure on local operators.

“Last year, we had a fairly short season as well; it wasn’t as big … as some in the past,” he said.

“On top of Jasper that happened mid-December, there wasn’t much Christmas retail at all; a lot of the people who’d normally come over that Christmas, new year [period] into January, when we usually have lovely weather, just weren’t game to come to the north.

“That’s put a lot of pressure on businesses.”

While accommodation providers in Cooktown were experiencing bumper trade housing those involved in regional flood recovery efforts, Mr Bowman said it also meant there was currently no availability for tourists chasing a roof over their head during their visit.

“The flip side is there are no beds available if someone did want to come and visit us,” he said.

“That will balance out, but it’s still challenging.”

READ ALSO New campground to give tourists a taste of Cape

With the 2024 tourist season looming, Mr Bowman encouraged visitors to not discount a trip to Cooktown, even if they could not take the bucket list roads to get there.

“Look, everywhere’s sodden and wet; the reality is mother nature’s doing a number on us, isn’t it?” he reflected.

“Cooktown’s got a great lot to offer for a few days to adventure out and around.

“It’s just about, you know, what that road’s going to be like to go and visit some of the other areas.

“We want them to come and visit; we need their visitation.”

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