Magnetic Island North Queensland
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August 15th 2011
Tourism Minister meets locals

State Minister Jan Jarratt listens to a question from an Island business owner “We are down between 30% and 35% on last year and last year was poor,” said Ian Ivers from First National Real Estate, who manage holiday rentals for about 100 Magnetic Island properties. It was one of the messages heard by Queensland Minister for Small Business, Tourism and Manufacturing, Jan Jarratt, at a short-notice meeting with Island business people last week.

The comment reflected a widespread concern that the Island’s tourist-based economy is struggling in a business environment where the high Aussie dollar is taking southern Australian tourists to Bali and beyond and pricing out the back-packing British and European travellers.

With such powerful economic headwinds unlikely to improve soon, the legacy of Cyclone Yasi's powerful winds has left the Island’s iconic Picnic Bay Jetty crumbling and still without a proper engineering report on its repairability released.

The Minister was on Magnetic Island with local member Mandy Johnstone and there were no shortage of issues raised with her but she was quick to state that, “No level of government at this point in the economic cycle has buckets of dollars.”

Jan Jarratt also explained that the jetty’s repair was not in her portfolio (it’s Craig Wallace’s) and Mandy Johnstone added that she expected the costs could be “a few millions” and that she was “Doing her best to get an update soon.” This wasn’t enough for Queensland Country Credit Union Manager, Ron Stevens who thought it was a “cop out” that at least a section of the jetty could not be opened.

Island businessman, John Domelow said, “The difficulty is that if the natural attraction (accessed via the jetty) is not here then (tourist’s) time on the Island is limited. The Forts used to be a good interpretive walk but its all gone. There’s noise but nothing happens.”

The meeting was held at the Rotary Park at Nelly Bay

“When an industry relies on natural attractions you need to keep them open. As soon as you lose one business others follow and if we leave the jetty too much longer then maybe it will not be worth doing.”

Jan Jarratt reminded the group that Queensland hadn’t only experienced Cyclone Yasi but extensive flooding. “It was never going to be fixed up in six months but I can appreciate your frustration.”

She also commented that, “More and more promotion is based on Queensland as a whole and not the bits within the pie.”

Ross Napier, also from First National, commented on the inability of individual (holiday) property owners to afford the entry level into state wide tourism marketing.

Minister Jarratt urged use of the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse which was free and if operators were not listed there, “they wouldn’t be picked up”.

Lindsay Simpson from Tourism Operators Businesses Magnetic Island (TOBMI) reminded the group that Magnetic Island has a local tourism organisation (TOBMI) and that as the operator of Providence Sailing their business has a levied tax on every passenger. “Here is a landscape and it is the government’s responsibility to fix it,” she said suggesting that “We look at a pilot, user pays principle, for access to the National Parks.”

An assistant to the Minister commented that a master plan open consultation for national parks is presently under way and that the charging concept could be raised in that.

Lack of across-government understanding of how the co-ordination of necessary Island work can clash with peak tourism periods or events were raised on a number of fronts. These included the timing of QPWS controlled burns which Island shop owner, Julie Carmody, claimed were two months late due to the rangers not completing their paperwork in time.

Magnetic Times sought a response from the Queensland Parks and Wildlife service on the claims and will include their response when available.

Julie Carmody also noted that the soon-to-start works program fixing the cyclone-damaged Nelly Bay Harbour breakwall will coincide with the preparations of high profile F18 class catamarans who will be adjacent to the work site for the Sealink Magnetic Island (yachting) Race Week.

Dr Rick Braley raised his plans seeking funding for snorkel trails at Geoffrey and Arthur Bays. “there is no marine signage and it’s very important here. It makes so much more for tourists,” he said.

Danger at the Sealink (formerlly Sunferries’) breakwater terminal was mentioned by local business woman, Pam Abrahams, who was very concerned there were, “No travelling facilities for young backpacker girls,” who were “sleeping on benches” at the terminal waiting for a ferry after being dropped off by a coach.

Ewe Cheng, a former travel agent made some interesting comments that north Queensland and Townsville should cultivate Air Niugini to fly into Townsville as it has excellent aircraft with connections to Hong Kong which could be used to take advantage of the shorter travelling times and attract the growing Chinese tourist market without them being syphoned through Brisbane or Sydney and likely lost as visitors to the north.

John Domelow pitched in with another request, that the minister call on her federal colleagues asking, “Are you aware of retail rates (of pay) for Sunday loadings of 25% - up over two years but will, after five years be a 150% loading? It will turn every Sunday into a public holiday. Please lobby hard and strong, otherwise jobs will just disappear!”

Minister Jarratt agreed to “take that on board.”

Again, funding for the completion of the Nelly to Arcadia walkway was raised and the Minister, who observed, with Mandy Johnstone, that an application for RDA (Regional Development Australia) funding was currently being sought, simply said, “It is a competitive funding environment”.

While it is no doubt important that Island business people speak directly to senior members of the government the implicit message was clear that given the restraints on the economy in recovery from the ravages of floods and Cyclone Yasi, sympathy and further following up on matters underway, rather than dollars and action were probably as much we might hope for for the present. It was surely beneficial, however, that a diverse group of Island business people sat together to hear and discuss issues important to them all.

Story & photo: George Hirst

To add your comment,
or read those of others, see below

Tourism Minister meets locals
Marlene Jackson
August 15th 2011
I can appreciate that tourist groups are doing it hard, but they often don't help themselves, in July I phoned a cruise company on the island and had 5 people interested in taking an evening cruise, left a message with my phone number and nobody even bothered to call us back. So tourist operators give us service if you want us to support you
August 15th 2011
Couldn't agree more Marlene. The Island needs more quality, quality, quality and more services - why do kitchens close at 7:30pm-8:00pm, is there a war on? Magnetic Island is an internatinal destination - Europeans don't actually go out to eat until at the very earliest 8:00pm. I have lost count of how many times I have been embarrassed when over hearing establishments telling potential customers that "the kitchen is closed". One classic example is when we rang up to book at around 6:00pm and said we would be there "about 6:30-ish" and got the respone "Oh good, we are closing early"....they only opened at 6:00pm! A lot of the business operators need to visit Palm Cove, Noosa, Byron Bay to see how tourism is done!
August 15th 2011
Interesting to note that the suggestion of lowering pay rates (for Sundays) is quickly taken on board! Nothing much about providing good service and quality.
August 15th 2011
With all due respect I would have to say that the Nelly to Arcadia walkway would have a much more positive impact for tourism than reparing the Picnic Bay jetty.
My thoughts would be to save the money and remove the jetty altogether, redirecting the funds to iniatives such as the walkway which nearly every visitor would utilise, or if it was to be rebuilt to make it a usable jetty with restaurants, shops and bars and agazebo at the end for wedding ceremonies. (however I expect a rebuilt jetty would always pose a risk with future cyclones). Hence I think the money is better spent on the walkway.
It would be fantastic for both tourism and safety of local pedestrians, runners and cyclists to one day have a dedicated path alongside the road from Nelly Bay to Horseshoe Bay.
QPWS Ranger, Jo Petersen
August 15th 2011
Every year Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service rangers undertake a thorough strategic planning process to prepare and undertake the planned burn program on Magnetic Island.

The QPWS 2011 planned burn program on Magnetic Island this year has gone to plan and has successfully achieved the fuel reduction outcomes that were intended. These burns have been conducted from May as planned, with the program recently winding down due to changes in climate and fuel to drier conditions.

One of the main objectives of QPWS fire management is to ensure the protection of life and property which is achieved through fuel reduction burning.

QPWS takes the concerns of local businesses and tourist operators seriously when developing the annual planned burn program and this year avoided carrying out any burn operations over the Easter holidays, Queen’s Birthday long weekend and V8s week.
Denise Colk
August 16th 2011
Maggie has been going down the gurgler for a while. In 1987 I was able to book into restaurants for any night I wanted and do a Reef Cruise. We were there in April/May of that year.

In 2008, again April/ May, I left messages at three restaurants requesting advice as to whether the would be open and could I make a booking, if so. I am still to hear back from any of them.

I also wanted to book a car and do the paperwork when I arrived on the Island. The entire rental for the car was taken out of my account months prior to my arrival. The girl had assured me that she only wanted those details to speed things up! In fact they wanted use of my money for six months prior to my arrival. The money came out of my account the same day, but took a week to replace, when I complained and cancelled the booking. It is those sorts of things that need changing. It's is "let's take 'em down" attitude of some of the tour operators, that is the problem. Ok I understand all the businesses on the Island prefer backpackers and don't really like seniors, even if we have been repeat stayers over 30 odd years. Everywhere is for backbackers, now. Well this is one oldie who is absolutely thrilled all the backpackers may be priced out of visiting. Perhaps then, and only then, renters and tour operators will give older and family Aussies a go.
August 18th 2011
Re burning program - pity no-one thinks of the effect on people's lungs or the ash that covers one's house/windows not to mention new paintwork! And I wonder how many birds/animals die?
August 18th 2011
Chalkie, what makes you think that no-one thinks about the effects of fuel reduction burning on peoples' lives? Of course, for some people no amount of explanation, consultation, scientific, social or economic evidence is enough - they simply believe it is wrong or at least wrong-headed. That is their right and it is also their right to be the first to complain and demand compensation when their property is damaged or their life is ruined because the government didn't take all the necessary precautions to prevent a wildfire.
What I most appreciate is the effort QPWS makes (at least on Magnetic Island) to explain their actions, to mount their case with practical evidence and to advise as well as reasonably possible, what they are doing and why.
August 19th 2011
A "visitor pays" entry to the national park would be a huge negative to island tourism -people come to relax, not to get fleeced. Repair (not restore) the jetty. The force of the waves lifted the deck planks and caused the damage - replace the planks with alloy mesh and it should survive the next Yasi.

Ian PB

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