August 15th 2011
Tourism Minister meets locals
“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
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