DEPUTY Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said the Queensland Government’s handling of island tourism left a lot to be desired, during a flying visit to the Whitsundays last week.
“To have a minister of the Crown, Steven Miles, go on record and call the most beautiful, pristine area an eyesore is not good for Queensland tourism,” she said.
“You cannot try to sell this amazing tourism area we have in the Whitsunday Islands when you have got the government calling it an eyesore.”
The Minister for the Great Barrier Reef and Environment and Heritage Protection told the Courier Mail that empty island resorts were “decomposing wrecks and eyesores on the landscape”.
Tourism Whitsundays CEO Craig Turner agreed such a comment was not in the best interests of Queensland tourism.
“The Whitsunday Islands are a critical part of our tourism experience. You have got Hamilton Island, Hayman and Daydream doing a great job and we would love to see the other islands get up,” he said.
Whitsunday islands with vacant resorts awaiting development by lease holders include South Molle Island, Hook Island, Lindeman Island, Brampton Island and two out of three resorts on Long Island.
Palm Bay resort on Long Island is operational, however the Happy Bay resort and Paradise Bay remain dormant.
China Capital Investment Group snapped up South Molle Island in August last year for a reported $24 million but nothing has been done since then.
South Molle Island and the resort’s owners are “currently looking at various options for the operation and redevelopment of South Molle”.
“(However) nothing has been finalised at this stage. Details will be announced in the future at the appropriate time,” a spokesperson said.
A joint statement from the Queensland Government said no development application had been submitted.
Lindeman Island was bought by Chinese owned White Horse Group for $12 million in 2012.
Whitehorse chairman Paul Nyholt said he hoped to achieve a significant milestone in the next six months.
“We are in the final stages on our environment impact statement, which takes 18 months,” he said.
“Now we have submitted the document to the government department and
are awaiting feedback, which will hopefully take six months.”
The company plans to develop three island resorts on Lindeman, which is expected to cost a total of $600 million and reach completion by 2020.
Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox said his CEO Barry Omundson had recently met with the Island Resorts Inter-Agency Working Group with a view to reviving the resorts.
“The GBR (working group) was formed after seeking feedback from regional tourism organisations including Tourism Whitsundays and other tourism stakeholders in a bid to drive a revival in island resorts,” he said.
“The group will meet with local island resort operators to discuss ways industry and the government can improve the business environment and economic outcomes for the region.”
Over the coming months, the group will collate the results of the case studies and economic analysis and make recommendations to government.
The State Government, in a joint department response, stated island resorts in the Whitsundays had struggled in the face of natural disasters and strong international competition for the tourism dollar and debt to the state.
The government expects lessees to abide by their lease conditions, in return for the rights to operate in these unique locations.
Where lessees owe substantial rental arrears, the Department of Natural Resources and Mines works with the lessee in an attempt to manage their debt.
However, where a lessee fails to manage significant arrears, the department is able to take formal action through taking possession and sale.
“The department is currently working with the lessees of four island resorts to meet their rental obligations, and if required, will consider taking further action,” a departmental spokesperson said.
Since October 2015, the department has issued three island resort lessees with ‘Notices of Intention to Forfeit’ for their leases, due to substantial and ongoing rental arrears owing to the state.
Of the 24 resorts on leasehold land in the Great Barrier Reef, 13 are open.
PARADISE LOST: Lease holders of South Molle Island are ‘looking at options’.
The resort at the northern end of Long Island owned by Ocean Hotels and Tourism was due to reopen last year after closing in January 2015 for a revamp. The island is currently on the market and is expected to comand a price tag of beteeen $15 and $20 million.
At the southern end of the group Lindeman Island was bought by Chinese owned White Horse Group for $12 million in 2012. The resort is in the final stages of an environment impact statement and a $20m development is expected to be open in 2020.