The Queensland Government crackdown on declared criminal motorcycle clubs is worrying tourism operators and officials. One tourism operator even believes accommodation providers are turning away bikers for fear of losing other customers scared of their appearance.
At a recent meeting in Warwick of South East Queensland tourism bureaucrats, local government officials, the RACQ and tourism operators, several said the bikie crackdown had caused a “significant” drop in motorcycle tourism. However, some said it had no effect while others said they did not have any statistical proof, only anecdotal. The issue was deemed important enough for one tourism bureaucrat to tell the meeting that Tourism Queensland specifically asked him to survey the attendees about the effect of the anti-bikie laws. (To protect the paid state and local government bureaucrats from any political repercussions, their identities have been suppressed.)
One bureaucrat blamed bad press for the “significant” drop-off in motorcycle riders in their region. Another said the recent hot weather may also have contributed to the downturn. However, Goondiwindi councillor David McMahon said the motorcycle friendly town of Texas had not suffered any drop in bike tourism. “The hotel manager asks all the riders who come in if they have been turned off riding their bikes and they say no,” he said.
Yet Majella Kahler of Kahler’s Oasis Big4 Caravan Park has a different story to tell. She says older riders such as Ulysses Club members are a “huge user” of her park but the anti-bikie laws were “having an effect”. “Just before Christmas a big group of about 40 bikies rode through town with a police escort, the traffic lights blocked off and an armoured vehicle trailing behind,” she says. “You don’t witness that and get over it easily.”
She says social bikers – mainly Ulysses riders with big bikes and camper trailers attached – and sports bikers who frequent the nearby Morgan Park racetrack facilities make up about 10% of her business. “We have cabins with awnings out the front so they can park their bike under cover – they like that,” she says. “But now you have customers sitting in their caravans in your park and they see a motorbike come in and they get scared. That happens regularly. Some dear old lady will come down and tell us she thinks she’s going to be ‘whatever-ed’ in her bed and you tell them that they’re not bikies, they’re probably professional lawyers or something and they’ll probably be very quiet and asleep by 9 ‘clock. I offer them their money back if the riders are noisy or disruptive. Normally they come down the next morning and tell you the riders were very nice and they didn’t hear boo out of them. But I understand some accommodation suppliers are balking at taking them (motorcycle riders) because of the adverse publicity. They don’t want to scare off their other patrons. However, you don’t judge a book by its cover.”
While the tourism meeting was convened to develop ways to promote “drive” tourism in the area, it was acknowledged that motorcycle tourism is an important part of the SEQ tourism industry and one of the top growing niches. The meeting was also told that while the tourism industry pandered to grey nomads who spent an average of $20-$40 a day in regional communities, motorcycle tourists spent up to $140 a day as they can’t carry their groceries with them and needed to buy fuel, food, drink and accommodation in rural towns along the way. None of the tourism groups said they had any specific brochures or information about motorcycle tourism but one of the many outcomes of the meeting was a commitment to collate information, images and maps to target riders.