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New limits ‘change the game completely’ for operators

By Ray White Whitsunday

A PASSIONATE call to allow more passengers on boat tours has finally been answered, with tourism operators saying the move has “changed the game completely”.

The Queensland Tourism Industry Council announced last week that up to 50 passengers would now be allowed to travel on tours across the state.

Tourism operators were previously limited in numbers dependent on the size of the vessel and social distancing measures.

This meant many boat tours across the region were operating at minimal capacity and struggling to make a profit.

However, negotiations between the council and Queensland’s chief health officer resulted in a “massive win” for the industry, according to owner of Red Cat Adventures Julie Telford.

“What it means for us is that we can actually go out with full boats,” she said.

“We’re kind of back to running our normal operations on our day tours with full available capacity.”

Red Cat reopened in mid-June, however Mrs Telford said with restricted numbers the business was operating below break-even.

“We really wanted to run the tours even though it wasn’t really profitable for us to do it,” she said.

“It was difficult because with the restrictions we could clump people who were living in the same household together.

“We had to have a boat chart and put each booking in certain seats and if someone wanted to book in and sit with their family or friend we had to re-do the whole boat again so it was really labour intensive for our reservation staff.”

While a seating plan will still be enforced alongside other increased hygiene measures, Mrs Telford hoped eased limits would provide visitors with a better Whitsunday experience.

“We felt like it was a massive win and felt like the government obviously has been listening to us,” she said.

“Queensland decided to lift the restrictions so that it was actually worth our while going out and it was actually profitable, because before that it wasn’t.

“I think for the region it will give the visitors a better experience. The restaurants will be opening, and all the tourism experiences should be opening now or at least soon because it’s worthwhile for them to do it now.”

Rick Mark said the eased restrictions would allow him to return to the water next month. Picture: Laura Thomas

Owner of Apollo Whitsundays Rick Mark was among those who kept his boat dormant in the marina because of restrictions on passengers.

“You were going out to break-even, which is just entirely counterproductive,” he said.

“With the numbers we were given you simply couldn’t run the boat as a business.

“It’s no ifs or buts, it simply wasn’t worthwhile running a trip.”

The 75-foot yacht typically had a capacity of 27 passengers, but under restrictions it could only carry 17.

However, Mr Mark said the new passenger limit was the “shot in the arm the industry needed”.

“It’s a tremendous step forward because it means the business can actually run as a business again,” he said.

“Before there was no point to us running at all … that’s changed now.

“Now our priority is to try and turn that benefit into some consistent numbers on the boat.”

Tours with Apollo Whitsundays will recommence on August 7 and Mr Mark said they had already secured several bookings for the first tour.

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The shift from international to domestic tourism was also flagged as a challenge over the coming months.

Mr Mark said before coronavirus, 98 per cent of guests on Apollo Whitsundays were international travellers.

Now, the business had to “completely reinvent things” in order to attract the domestic market.

“We were very reliant on (the international) market but it’s simply not there now so we’ve got to chase new markets,” he said.

“We’ve got to find different markets and look for different ways to market to different markets.”

Mrs Telford said Red Cat Adventures were in a similar position with 86 per cent of their pre-COVID passengers hailing from overseas.

“We had to completely redesign our business, take it apart and put it together again,” she said.

However, both owners were hopeful that while there would still be challenges on the horizon, the eased limits on passengers would assist their ability to bounce back.

Source: Whitsunday Times

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