CHANGE A FOOT FOR TOURISM

Whitsunday Times - - FRONT PAGE -

OIL and wa­ter do not mix. This is how Jan Clax­ton, Al Grundy and other mem­bers of the Tourism Strate­gic Ad­vi­sory Group (TSAG) have felt over the past two years about the “mar­riage” of tourism and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment at WMDL.

Whit­sun­days Mar­ket­ing and De­vel­op­ment Lim­ited (WMDL) was of­fi­cially formed in July 2012, from the merger of En­ter­prise Whit­sun­days and Tourism Whit­sun­days – and Ms Clax­ton says from this point on, tourism op­er­a­tors lost their ded­i­cated voice.

Last week, mat­ters came to a head, with mem­bers of the TSAG ap­proach­ing Whit­sun­day Mayor Jen­nifer Whit­ney to talk about a split.

Ms Clax­ton, Mr Grundy and many WMDL mem­bers, feel the gap has widened be­tween the Whit­sun­days’ tourism and eco­nomic streams, with eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment fo­cussing on is­sues such as Ab­bot Point, the Bruce High­way and Uran­nah Dam, while for tourism much of the fo­cus is on wa­ter qual­ity and the Great Bar­rier Reef.

“And we need a tourism strat­egy that’s aligned to the Great Bar­rier Reef and our nat­u­ral as­sets,” Mr Grundy said.

Mr Grundy pointed to fig­ures that showed the Whit­sun­days had risen phoenix­like from the ashes of the GFC, host­ing 45% of all marine tourism to the Great Bar­rier Reef – now equal to Cairns but with a man­age­ment plan area one sixth of the size of Cairns.

He said th­ese were im­por­tant mes­sages but be­cause it was so “com­pli­cated and con­fus­ing” hav­ing eco­nomic de- vel­op­ment and tourism man­aged un­der one roof, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion was awry.

Ms Clax­ton said there had of­ten been rum­blings from the WMDL mem­ber­ship, with peo­ple keen to break away and form a “splin­ter group”.

“And now I thought, ‘that’s it. I’ve heard this enough times’,” she said.

Cr Whit­ney, who is also one of the five WMDL board mem­bers, un­der chair­man Jim El­der, said none of this un­rest had been get­ting through to the board “so it’s very dif­fi­cult for a board to do some­thing if you’re un­aware”.

“But now we are,” she said. “And ob­vi­ously I will be tak­ing it to Coun­cil.”

Cr Whit­ney said two bud­gets ago she had ac­tu­ally sug­gested “putting tourism on its own and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment within Coun­cil”.

“And I think only Cr Collins sup­ported it so I didn’t bother bring­ing it up at this bud­get,” she said.

She also con­ceded the tourism op­er­a­tors could well be right about the need to sep­a­rate.

“It might just be that we’ve tried the two to­gether, it’s not been suc­cess­ful and maybe there’s a bet­ter way for­ward and we’ve got to be open to that,” she said.

Mr El­der said he too was aware of the is­sues and had been talk­ing to mem­bers of the TSAG.

“And I am cur­rently in the process of or­gan­is­ing a gen­eral meet­ing early in the new year to help fa­cil­i­tate the wishes of the mem­ber­ship,” he said.

Cr Whit­ney con­firmed tourism fund­ing was guar­an­teed un­til June 30, 2016.

UNITED: Tourism op­er­a­tors who met yes­ter­day were united in their re­solve that changes must be made to the struc­ture of WMDL. Pic­tured are: Danielle Krista, Jan Clax­ton, Greg Waites, Nick Hor­tle, Kevin Collins, Trevor Rees, Steve Smallman, Alison Mol­loy, Al Grundy, James Spicer, Keith Roberts, Dave Mol­loy, Lolita and Jess Lau­rent and Jo Ladd.

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