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Parks Australia Celebrates 30 Years of Elvis-Tribute Gala



Parks Australia Celebrates 30 Years of Elvis-Tribute Gala

Hundreds of Elvis Presley impersonators marched down Parkes’ main street on Saturday, as the Australia’s country town celebrated 30 years of hosting an Elvis-tribute gala that has grown into one of the country’s largest festivals.

“It’s fantastic,” said Bob Steele, who founded the festival with his wife Anne following a dinner party at which guests ended up singing Elvis songs late into the night. “Imagine celebrating 30 years with a festival; we’re overjoyed.”

The festival, 350 kilometers northwest of Sydney, is held each year in early January, with approximately 24,000 fans flocking to the town, which normally has a population of about 14,000.

Aside from Elvis tribute acts, the extravaganza, which coincides with ‘The King’s’ birthday, includes Elvis art and photo exhibitions, rock and roll dance lessons, and Elvis trivia nights.

While Parkes is now known as Australia’s Elvis capital, Steele claims that some locals were initially skeptical of the event.

“I recall reading various people’s letters in the paper that said, ‘Why would we honor an American?’ But they can see how foolish that is now, and everyone is quite happy about it “He told Reuters this.

Saturday’s parade, the culmination of the five-day festival, saw participants shake their way down Main Street in jet black wigs and bejeweled jumpsuits.

Other impersonators in vintage cars joined the colorful procession.

First time attendee, Carl Upton, who made the trip after buying a vintage car and discovering it was a two-time festival award winner, described the occasion as “mindblowing”. “It’s been absolutely fantastic,” he exclaimed.


Australia’s battered tourism puts hope in Chinese

Meanwhile, after a years of “survival,” CBT Holidays, a Sydney-based tour company, hopes that the reopening of China’s borders will revitalize Australia’s tourism sector.

When Australia and China closed their borders in response to the emergence of COVID-19, the tour company lost access to its largest market in 2020. CBT Holidays, which specializes in package tours to China, ceased operations entirely for much of 2021 due to a lack of customers.

Despite Australia reopening to visitors in February 2022 and many tour operators’ efforts to shift to domestic tourism, business slowed for much of the sector last year.

While Australians were still barred from entering China, Chinese visitors to Australia fell by more than 95 percent from 1.43 million in 2019.

“Initially, we had some compensation from the Australian and New South Wales governments until about a year and a half ago,” Eric Wong, product manager at CBT Holidays, told AL Jazeera.

“And then we just shut down the business.”

As China reopens its borders on Sunday, millions of Chinese people, including tourists, students, and business travelers, are expected to travel overseas for the first time in three years, including to Australia.

“[It’s] good news, the Chinese border is open,” Jimmy L, the owner of CBT Holidays, told Al Jazeera, asking to be addressed by his first name and a surname initial.

“The business will come, more or less… and then we’ll be able to profit again.”

Nonetheless, he is concerned about how long it will take for business to recover, not least because of a lack of flights into and out of China, as well as the prohibitively high cost of fares.

“For example, a return ticket to China used to cost around $1,000 Australian dollars ($688). And now it’s 8,000, 9,000 [Australian dollars] ($5,500, $6,200)… for the economy,” he explained. Sun, the managing director of China Travel Service, a Sydney-based China-focused operator, agreed.


Flights from China

Sun told Al Jazeera that there are currently only “a couple of flights” arriving in Australia from China, each carrying only a few hundred passengers.

While Chinese airlines are increasing flights to and from Australia, Australia’s national carrier, Qantas, has yet to reopen routes to China.

“I believe that will change significantly… as airlines increase their flight schedule… “I believe that people exchanges between these two countries will become more frequent and then gradually return to normal,” Sun predicted.

Despite Chinese visitors accounting for 12.3 billion Australian dollars ($8.5 billion), or one-third of all tourist spending prior to the pandemic, the Australian government has taken little action to encourage travel between China and Australia.

Australia announced on New Year’s Day that travelers from China, including Hong Kong and Macau, would be required to provide a negative COVID-19 test result prior to travel, citing concerns that rising cases in China could result in new and more dangerous variants for Australia.

Despite advice from the country’s chief medical officer that new travel restrictions were unnecessary, the Australian government announced the measures, which followed similar moves by countries such as India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Beijing has condemned the measures, saying any COVID-19 control policy needs to be “proportionate” and “science-based”, without affecting “normal travel and people-to-people exchange and cooperation”.

covid tests australia

48-hour Covid-19 tests

Sun stated that he is not concerned that the tests will prevent or discourage some Chinese from traveling to Australia.

“I think that’s all right… “That’s perfectly reasonable,” he said. “Even now, visiting China requires a 48-hour COVID test for Australians or Australian-Chinese. It’s the same thing.”

“I also believe we need time because the policy may change,” he added.

However, Sun believes that much more needs to be done to encourage Chinese people to return to Australia in large numbers.

“We still need to reconnect with those hotels and attractions, get new equipment and contracts, and then create a new product for Chinese inbound customers,” he said.

“We also need to reconnect with Chinese travel companies to create the package tour product for Australians [traveling to China], which will take a couple of months to prepare for.”

At the same time, Sun stated that he has learned from experience that it is critical for his company to continue expanding outside of China in order to ensure its future.

“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” he explained, adding that CTS has already begun to grow.

Meanwhile, companies like CTS are looking forward to the return of Chinese visitors.

Sun stated that while he expected China to open its borders eventually, he did not expect it to be so soon.

That’s why, when everyone hears the news, especially in this industry, they’re ecstatic,” he says. “We’re overjoyed. It’s great news.”

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