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Sport Townsville's sporting economy keeps north Queensland thriving during COVID-19 pandemic

01:20  24 september  2021
01:20  24 september  2021 Source:   msn.com

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a train going down the river: Business and community leaders are confident Townsville has © Provided by ABC Business Business and community leaders are confident Townsville has "proved its worth" as a major events destination during the pandemic.  (Supplied: David Cook)

While major events across the country fall victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, the north Queensland city of Townsville has emerged as a sporting powerhouse and unlikely saviour of Australia's events calendar.

It could not have come at a better time.

The long-awaited $290 million Townsville Stadium opened just a month before coronavirus restrictions kicked in last year and has since hosted 30 major events.

"While the rest of the world shuts down, Queensland — and in particular north Queensland — continues to thrive," stadium manager Tom Kimble said.

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Business and community leaders are confident Townsville has "proved its worth" as a premier events destination that will pay off long after the nation reopens.

Sporting mecca

North Queenslanders love their sport and national sporting bodies have taken notice.

Townsville came to the rescue earlier this year, becoming the first regional city in Australia to host a State of Origin game after Melbourne's snap lockdown forced a last-minute reshuffle.

Tickets sold out within minutes.

This weekend's Rugby Championship — featuring Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina — will be the largest regional crowd the Wallabies have ever seen.

"Just over 417,000 patrons have come to the venue since the venue opened, which is unreal," Mr Kimble said.

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Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill said many locals had initial doubts about the stadium, but the investment in infrastructure was paying dividends.

"I can't express how lucky we are to have the stadium, to have these events rolling through, just to at least keep our tourism economy, our event economy going," Ms Hill said.

"It's a hell of a lot easier and you feel a lot safer [from COVID-19] driving from Cairns to Townsville than going into Brisbane."

Multi-million-dollar economic injection

Regional economist Colin Dwyer said five recent drawcard matches — including State of Origin and the Oceania Rugby Sevens — had meant big business for Townsville.

"We're looking at around $37.9 million being generated locally out of those matches … and there'll be over 10,000 jobs hours that have been created," Mr Dwyer said.

"That stadium is about putting bums on seats, heads into beds, buyers into local businesses, and promoting Townsville as a national and international event destination.

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"And it's doing a darn good job of it at the moment."

In a city less reliant on tourism than its northern neighbour Cairns, Townsville hotels have been reaping the benefits of bumper events.

"For the most part, we've been fully booked," hotel manager Paul Gray said.

"More and more so we're seeing that someone will come and stay for the event night and then they'll add an additional night on the start or the end of their trip."

Even in the CBD, which has long struggled to attract customers, retailers have noticed a shift.

Clothing boutique owner Candace Pretto said the flow-on effects have been great for business.

"Whenever there's a footy game on the weekend, we definitely see an increase in foot traffic from people visiting from out of town and more locals coming into the city," Ms Pretto said.

"When people come in and they're staying in the city, they're generally eating in the cafes and checking out the shops, so it means a great trade weekend for us."

Will the momentum last?

While the timeline is unclear, the nation will inevitably open up again as lockdowns and restrictions ease – allowing sport to restart in other cities.

"There'll be less events [in Townsville] potentially, but I think the region itself should see some better visitation," Mr Gray said.

Tom Kimble remains determined Townsville would not be a "flash in the pan" when that happens.

"We've absolutely got the momentum going — I'm not concerned in the slightest," he said.

Mr Dwyer said the city had proved itself, and often with little warning.

"I think it is a wake-up call to the NRL, to Rugby Australia, to Cricket Australia, to Netball Australia as well, that Townsville is a sporting capital and we can hold those events," he said.

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