One of Queensland’s most renowned country pubs will not be reopening, due to the stressors of the COVID-19 shutdown.

The owners of the Great Western Hotel in Rockhampton have announced that they won’t be reopening the hotel, citing the impacts of the shutdown and the subsequent social distancing restrictions as the cause.

As a midway point for tourists between Brisbane and northern Queensland, Rockhampton has become increasingly reliant on tourism as an economic driver. With Queensland’s state borders still shut and international tourism unlikely to return for at least another 12 months, the Great Western Hotel has seen a large portion of its patronage dry up, even as venues return to on-premise trade.

The large-format hotel is renowned as an iconic ‘country’ experience, with a large undercover entertainment arena, which hosted rodeos at least once a month before the pandemic, as well as major live music acts. The pub also has four bars, a beer garden and a gaming room. Owners Colin and Vickie Bowden have spent over $1 million in improvements to the hotel over the past five years.

The Bowdens released the following statement on the decision to close the 158-year-old hotel.

“Due to Covid-19 the Great Western Hotel will not be reopening. The Great Western Hotel is an iconic local tourist destination which is heavily dependent on overseas and interstate visitors. The social distancing restrictions, border closures and travel restrictions have had a major impact on the Hotel. The Great Western is also reliant on major rodeos and music events, both of which it is uncertain when they can resume.

“The inclusion of the Great Western Hotel in the Safe Night Precinct has also had a negative impact.”

The Bowdens continued: “We would personally like to thank our General Manager, Denis Cox, who has done an outstanding job over the past 18 months and to all our hard working staff – we consider you all family.

“We would also like to thank our stakeholders – the competitors, sponsors and suppliers whom made a visit to the Great Western Hotel such a memorable experience.

“We apologise to our locals.

“The Great Western Hotel was established in 1862 and we are sure will continue for many years to come.”

There has been an outpouring of commiserations on social media since the announcement was made, with thousands of people from all around the world reminiscing about their experiences at the Great Western Hotel.

QHA CEO Bernie Hogan also expressed his dismay about the closure of such a revered Queensland Hotel.

“Obviously, we are bitterly disappointed to see such an iconic hotel as the Great Western close in Rockhampton. It simply shows the tough conditions that every hotel and hospitality business is struggling with in Queensland,” stated Hogan.

“The COVID pandemic is simply the latest in a long list of uphill battles that businesses like the Great Western have had to deal with, and we can only hope that the people of Queensland realise that these vital parts of their communities are worth saving and get out and support those that are left.”

Outgoing GM Denis Cox said he hoped a new owner could be found to take up the baton.

“With a venue like the Great Western, which was established in 1862, you never really own it, you are just part of its history and should aim to leave it in better condition than when you found it.”

The Bowdens are now fielding expressions of interest in the leasehold or freehold of the venue.


Image: Facebook/Great Western Hotel

Vanessa Cavasinni

Vanessa Cavasinni is the managing editor of Australian Hotelier and Club Management, trade publications for the pub and club sectors respectively. Vanessa has been at the helm of Australian Hotelier since...

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