'Flood fear' diverts backpackers away from Brisbane

Local hostels have accused other hotspots on the country's backpacking circuit of exaggerating the scale of Brisbane's devastation to capitalise on "flood fear".

With bookings down up to 60 per cent on normal, Brisbane hostels are desperately trying to counter the notion the city is still in lockdown.

Ben Schultz, general manager of Bunk Backpackers, Birdee Num Num and Go Travel, said Brisbane occupancy levels should currently stand at 90 per cent but were down to 30 per cent in the wake of this month's flood.

Mr Schultz said "sensational" media coverage led by southern press had resulted in backpackers and some travel agents "blacklisting" the capital as unfit for travel.

“The perception internationally is that Brisbane is still under water, the power is off, and cars and sewage are still floating down the Queen Street, and furthermore the city is a ghost town,” Mr Schultz said.

They'll say in Sydney or Melbourne 'stay here, Brisbane is underwater', 'it's flooded - it's no good

“This is simply untrue.”

Sander Kammam of Chill Backpackers said “flood-panic” had seen his business drop off by 40 per cent.

He said the situation was being exacerbated by a rumour mill being fed at other stops along the backpacking route.

He accused competitors of "taking advantage” of flood-fear by advising backpackers that a trip to Brisbane or Queensland was “just not worth it”.

"They'll say in Sydney or Melbourne 'stay here, Brisbane is underwater', 'it's flooded - it's no good', or that there's nothing to do here," Mr Kammam said.

"Some customers are coming in wide-eyed and shocked because they'd been told by staff or travel agents at their previous destinations that Brisbane is a mess," Mr Shultz said.

"It's not just [in Sydney and Melbourne] either, I've heard of operators in Cairns doing the same thing.

"It's understandable in the sense that's how a competitive tourism industry works - we'd give as good as we get given the chance - you want to keep your guests for as long as possible."

There were also concerns Brisbane's emerging image as a destination that was “more than a one-night stop-over” had been damaged, Mr Kammam said.

“Bookings are back to an average of 1.5 nights as compared to the four nights we were averaging before the floods,” he said.

“The market has grown significantly in recent years and it would be a shame to see it go backwards now.”

Backpackers Gera and Davy Looÿe of Holland had travelled to Brisbane from Cairns via Sydney and planned to stay one night before departing for Fraser Island.

They denied bad-press or flood-related warnings from third parties influenced their decision to use the city as a pit-stop.

Brisbane was not a sought after tourist destination in itself, they said, but it did enjoy a reputation as a safe, cheap and convenient stop on the road elsewhere.

"I don't think the floods were so bad for Brisbane," Mrs Looÿe said. "It is still a good place to get to other places - it's nice.

"You can go to Byron Bay or to Fraser Island but we didn't want to come here for long."

"It is good to stay here," Mr Looÿe said. "The hostels are well priced and they transport you for free which is good."

Last week, Tourism Minister Peter Lawlor announced a $664,000 tourism campaign to promote the state's major tourism destinations unaffected by the floods.

"That includes beaches, island resorts, accommodation providers, tours and attractions," Mr Lawlor said.

Wendy Harch, Executive Director International of Tourism Queensland, said that Brisbane was a “key part” of the state's “backpacking story.”

“It's crucial for us to dispel the myth that Brisbane and other key destinations in Queensland have been destroyed,” she said. “Particularly for backpackers; they stay longer, spend more and travel widely.

“[Queensland Tourism is] doing what we can to make sure that the backpacking community know what the state has to offer and that we're very much open for business.”

Key backpacking attractions in Brisbane that remain operational include the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, Riverlife Adventure Centre, the Kangaroo Point cliffs and the Fortitude Valley entertainment precinct.

"Brisbane is still a great way to get to other parts of the state," Ms Harch said. "From the beaches to the hinterland, there's still a lot to do."