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 phoenix-like 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 development 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.