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Whitsunday Leaders Outline Steps To Economic Recovery

By Ray White Whitsunday

The Whitsundays have been grappling with the effects of coronavirus for months as forced closures and the grounding of flights brought the economy to a grinding halt.

However, as restrictions begin to ease, the light at the end of the tunnel is slowly beginning to appear.

The Queensland government announced steps the state would take in order to pave the way for a return to normal, but the region’s leaders say the Whitsunday presents a unique case where more help may be needed.

Take a look at how the Whitsunday’s leaders from federal, state and local government as well as Tourism Whitsundays have plan to tackle to road to recovery.

Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox Picture: Jordan Gilliland

Budget and help go “hand in hand”

Mayor Andrew Willcox said he “won’t leave a stone unturned” in trying to help the community recover from the impacts of coronavirus.

Cr Willcox said the council was discussing the budget, which would have a direct impact on its plan to tackle the impacts of the pandemic.

“The budget and the recovery measures from a council point of view go hand in hand,” he said.

“We need to get our head around exactly what those numbers are.”

The economic losses from the grounding of flights in and out of the council-owned airport would need to be factored into the budget, and Cr Willcox said getting it up and running would be key to increasing the region’s economy.

“We need two carriers because we’re a business destination and we’re also a big leisure destination,” he said.

“We can’t have people spending all their money on flights and then not having any money when they actually get up to the region.”

Cr Willcox did not specify whether rates would be reduced but he said the council would lobby the state and federal governments for as much help as possible.

“We’re looking at all different aspects of what we can do in regards to relief, but what we don’t want to do is be in a situation where we … give it out with the left hand and have to take in back with the right hand,” he said.

“When it comes to assistance, we need to be getting the help from the federal and state governments to pass that through to our residents and ratepayers.”

Cr Willcox also emphasised the importance of economic stimulus through the completion of council projects “on the drawing board”.

Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan. Picture: Tony Martin

“Flicking the switch” on development and infrastructure

Member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan said economic recovery would rely on the region’s leaders “flicking the switch” on programs that would provide jobs and infrastructure.

“We need our captains of industry supporting some of the projects we’ve already articulated,” Mr Costigan said.

“I need them to help me deliver economic recovery that the Whitsundays are crying out for.”

Among these projects included Mr Costigan’s $6.5m pledge towards the establishment of a North Australian Maritime College in Airlie Beach.

Mr Costigan earlier said the money would “transform” Whitsunday Sailing Club into a world- class training institution, offering classes and on-site accommodation to students from around Northern Australia and potentially, overseas.

Cheaper electricity and water prices were also high on Mr Costigan’s strategies for helping the region cope through the economic impacts of the pandemic.

He acknowledged the region’s reliance on tourism would create difficulties in a speedy recovery and said one way to combat this was “playing to our strengths” and pushing forward with projects that would provide jobs and attract tourists.

“Strategies differ from community to community and each community is different,” he said.

“We need to put ideology and personal agendas to the side so we can get on with the business of rejuvenating our economy in the wake of Covid-19.”

The Urannah Dam project, a focus on indigenous tourism and extending the JobKeeper payments were also identified by Mr Costigan as areas from which the region could benefit.

“It’s no secret that tourism is the first industry to fall over and the last go get back, so it will need special attention,” he said.

“The Government needs to get out of the way and let projects get under way.”

Mr Costigan flagged a multi-million cable car project in Conway National Park as one development that would benefit the whole region in drawing tourists and stimulating the economy.

“I challenge the mayor at Tourism Whitsundays to get on the same page and turn up the heat so we can get some approvals under way in relation to (the Skyrail project),” he said.

Dawson MP George Christensen. Photo: Zizi Averil

Looking beyond tourism to boost economy

Member for Dawson George Christensen said the Whitsunday Recovery Taskforce would be key in identifying what the region needed to recover.

The taskforce will consult the community about where help is needed and work with local, state and federal government to provide relief.

“The heavy reliance on tourism is going to mean that the economic pain will continue in the Whitsundays beyond what the rest of the country experiences,” Mr Christensen said.

“We are going to have to look at what else can be done to lift up the economy while tourism is not fully operational.”

Mr Christensen said ideas he had put forward to the Federal Government included continuing the JobKeeper payment past September to help operators keep their workers employed.

In the tourism sector specifically, incentives and marketing schemes to drive domestic visitation were high on Mr Christensen’s priorities.

He also identified a need to put measures in place to protect operators using online booking agents, such as Adventium travel who currently owe several Whitsunday businesses significant amounts of money.

Mr Christensen said projects such as the Proserpine Dam, a water park for Airlie Beach and the Skyway project would help draw more tourists while providing jobs in the region.

He also pushed for the State Government to “put the pedal to the metal” on the Goorganga Plains road upgrade while pushing for works to continue on Hamilton Plains and Shute Harbour Rd.

“We certainly need to fill the void while tourism is not doing so well and we can do that through infrastructure spending, but we’re not just going to keep digging holes and pouring concrete for the sake of it,” he said.

“Hamilton Plains floodproofing is important for the community and it’s also important to the tourism sector to have flood-proofed roads.

“The work on Shute Harbour Rd is also about capacity increase so that’s important for local motorists and also for tourism and productivity.”

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler. Photo: Supplied.

Airport holds key to recovery

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said the group planned to take a phased approach to recovery marketing that aligned with the lifting of restrictions.

The first phase, which has begun, revolves around “inspiring people while they’re sitting at home”, through social media and blogs.

Phase two will focus on drawing in the regional market and increase visitation from people in surrounding areas.

The third phase will be the intra/interstate component, which Mrs Wheeler said would need to be timed carefully to draw visitors while using the marketing budget wisely.

Earlier this month, a potential “trans-Tasman” travel agreement between Australia and New Zealand was discussed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

Mrs Wheeler said the New Zealand market was not the region’s strongest for visitation but it could be an option in drawing more tourists to the Whitsundays.

“It’s really hard to know at this point what (a travel agreement) will do,” she said.

“We’ve never had great traction with the New Zealand market and that’s been because it takes a couple of flights to get here.

“All we can hope is that (we can have) access to that New Zealand market, and that is reliant around having flights here, but possibly we can gauge and direct to parts of New Zealand that are used to having to take two planes.”

However, Mrs Wheeler said the key to recovery would be reopening the region’s airports.

“It is all going to depend around our connection with flights,” she said.

“We need to make sure that when we spend that burst of marketing funds we spend it when we have the opportunity to bring those bookings in.”

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