From challenges to opportunities in regional Queensland


Brisbane to Yamba Tours owner Livia Palmieri tells ABC about overcoming recent challenges, as she searches for someone to take over the growing business.

From challenges to opportunities in regional Queensland
Livia Palmeri set up Brisbane to Yamba tours in 2016

While many industries struggled throughout the pandemic, few had it as tough as the tourism industry. Especially for a tourism bus operator, they couldn’t just pivot to some other field, and instead they found themselves at the mercy of the latest outbreaks and lockdowns.

Then, in February, just as tourism started to open up again, the flooding that hit Queensland was like being kicked when they were just getting back on their feet.  The flooding affected a large portion of southern Queensland and northern New South Wales including Brisbane, Gympie, Lismore and Ballina. 

Livia Palmieri knows this situation all too well. She is the founder of Brisbane to Yamba Tours, a bus touring operation she started in 2016 to serve the Yamba community. She lived through these trying times that she never thought possible. 

"The lockdowns in 2021 were challenging of course and then this extra flooding has posed a number of challenges," Palmieri told ABC magazine. 

"Yamba never normally gets flooded, but the towns around normally do. This time, Yamba was flooded, which was very challenging for the town." 

It was a challenge for a company that has come a long way. Since it was started six years ago, today, Brisbane to Yamba bus tours offer a range of options for customers including tours around the Yamba region and airport transfers, playing an important role in the local community.

"I recognised there was a gap in the service between the major airports and Yamba and it was a gap for personalised service," Palmieri said. 

"It was also about serving the local residents who live there and travel a lot. I have established a good relationship with the local travel agents for outbound travellers and also people who are coming from overseas."

With roads opening back up after the floods, and tourism recovering from the pandemic, business is starting to pick up again

FUTURE FOCUS

Brisbane to Yamba Tours has been operating a 10-seat Toyota Hiace commuter with servicing completed on site by mechanic David Murtas.

Palmieri has begun looking toward hydrogen and electric buses to futureproof the company.

"Completing our transfers in Brisbane means the infrastructure is there for us to utilise electric or hydrogen buses but it is important for us to weigh up the cost benefit risk before we commit," she said.

For Palmieri, her work is about servicing the town of Yamba and delivering what locals needed, which has allowed the business to grow and thrive even under challenges.

"I am very passionate about small business, so I worked closely with a lot of businesses within Yamba," she said. 

"We were bringing students to Yamba to teach them about the oysters and also bringing international workers – we have such a diverse range of workers coming to the town it was important to cater to their needs."

She sees a strong role for local buses in supporting a vibrant community.

"A lot of the city workers who may need to travel once a month or once a fortnight can live in Yamba, so it is a great opportunity for someone to come in and do the airport transfers," Palmieri said. 

"By offering the bus service it gives people the alternative of leaving their car at home where it is safe and having all the hassle taken out of their travel." 

Regions along the northern New South Wales coast continue to grow and an influx of residents has seen cash flow rise, allowing some businesses to upgrade to become high-level establishments. 

"Yamba is growing, families that operated small hotels have upgraded to boutique hotels such as Yamba central and it is helping to solidify the town as one of the pre-eminent tourist destinations for that region," she said. 

"They have opened a microbrewery on site and it is the perfect place for us to start our tours then go around Yamba from there."

Whilst struggling through the floods, Palmeri expects Yamba to bounce back

While the flooding was a challenge, Palmieri is seeing business pick up again. 

"I am noticing now that customers are beginning to call me again and they are asking about holidays so it looks like it will begin to pick up," she said. 

"We did have to cancel some bookings, but it is nice to see them picking up again." 

The company has continued to operate tours a few times a week, working closely with local businesses to give the greatest experience for those visiting Yamba.

These tours have seen tourists engage in whale watching and kayaking, capitalising on the natural beauty that surrounds the region.

"We work with companies but we tailor to what a client needs and look to capitalise on Yamba’s exciting outdoor activities," she said.

"Having lived in Yamba, the community is always looking out for each other and that is what helps the company thrive."

While the Brisbane to Yamba Tours company has been a passion for Palmieri, she can see the time is right for someone to come in and continue to grow the business.

"There are a lot of opportunities for someone who wants to come in and take over and if they know how to do it right, they can be very successful," she said. 

"The hard work has been done, the marketing and getting it established in the community. It is about growing now and realising the opportunity. 

"It is a challenge operating a small business, obviously – I have to work all day and come home and do paperwork. The company is now in need of someone who has resources to put behind it to grow." 

Subscribe to our newsletter

Sign up to receive the ABC e-newsletter, digital magazine and other offers we choose to share with you straight to your inbox

You can also follow our updates by liking us on Facebook