Tourism’s operators discuss when to open
Businesses divided over key decision
TO OPEN or not to open that was the question on everyone’s lips at a meeting of Whitsunday tourism operators on Tuesday night.
Addressing a room filled with operators who had been battered by Cyclone Debbie, Tourism Whitsundays chief executive Craig Turner said there was one message he wanted to get out - that the Whitsundays is “open for business”.
However, spreading that message was a difficult challenge he said.
“We don’t want to put up the open for business sign too early and then find we make a promise to our customers who then miss out,” he said.
“We need to be careful about how we communicate because we get one crack at this and I’ll tell you right now, if we pull the trigger (too early), they’ll crucify us on social media.”
Mr Turner said over the past 10 days, he had been in constant contact with Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones and Federal Tourism Minister Steven Ciobo to discuss a plan for the region.
“The line in the sand, for us, is having power on,” he said.
“The trigger for Tourism Whitsundays is, when we get power, when we have those services, those experiences ready to go, when that occurs, which we’re hoping will be early next week, I am hoping that Monday next week we’re in a position to say we’re open for business on Wednesday.
“Ms Jones will be here for one day of meetings, discussions and announcements, (which) talks to the size of the recovery package, to the size of the money they’re going to put into this area, to ensure that we not only recover but quickly get business going.”
Mr Turner said Ms Jones was prepared to fly to the region again on Monday or Tuesday after he gave her the nod, to bring a media crew up with her, stand at an iconic location and announce the Whitsundays was open for business.
While some in the room applauded this idea, for others it was a bit too ambitious.
Co-owner of Fish D’Vine Kevin Collins said he “couldn’t believe” Tourism Whitsundays was talking about “pressing the button” and asking people to come back to the region.
He said he had seen hundreds of restaurants go broke because they opened too soon and he didn’t want to see the same thing happen again.
“If this goes too soon, when there’s not one leaf on a tree you’re sending people home with the message that it’s a destruction zone,” he said.
“Surely we should draw a breath here and try and get it right and let the paint dry.”
While some operators, shared Mr Collins’s view, others agreed the quicker the region got back on its feet, the better.
Explore Whitsundays Managing Director and chair of Tourism Whitsundays Allen Grundy said the region was heaven but “heaven’s got a little bit of damage at the moment”.
“But it’s still heaven,” he said.
“We need to remember that we’ve got about $680,000 beds on the water so long as they can fill up with fresh water, those boats are beds we can use.
“We’ve been answering phones off the hook and we’re full for two weeks. What do we do? Do we tell every one of those travellers to go away?
“We just need to work together, to find that (common ground) place.”
It seemed many in the room agreed with Mr Grundy as his piece was followed by a round of applause.
Other business owners said despite the damage, backpackers still had Airlie Beach on their list of destinations to visit in the near future.
Wedding and photography business owners also said despite the visuals of Airlie Beach being impacted, weddings were still being booked as well as photography sessions so it was important not to hinder the process.
Despite the tragedy which has hit the Whitsundays, one thing is certain.
Life must go on.
AERIAL VIEW: A windswept Airlie Beach in the aftermath of TC Debbie.