Social distancing ‘not viable’ for tour operators
TOURISM operators struggling to make ends meet are "beyond disappointed" to be snubbed by the Government during their time of need.
After two rounds of funding was awarded to tourism operators in Cairns, including to a foreign-owned company, local Whitsunday business owners have spoken out.
Red Cat Adventures owner Julie Telford said the Whitsundays contributed to 44 per cent of all tourism into the Great Barrier Reef, with Cairns sitting at 43 per cent.
She was shocked the Whitsundays had been overlooked in favour of areas with "larger voter bases".
"Our need is just as great," she said.
"We punch well above our weight as a tourism destination and are home to many family-run local operations.
"We do not have the backing of foreign-owned parent companies and as a result of COVID-19, we have had to cease operating, stand down staff and still pay our bills."
Ms Telford said businesses like her own were relying on support from the Government in order to survive.
She said with Whitsunday tourism operators 80-100 per cent reliant on international clientele, simply "waiting it out" until borders reopened was not an option.
Ocean Rafting principal Jan Claxton was furious that Cairns Marlin Marina were thrown a $3.67m lifeline from the Government, while no assistance was given to the Whitsundays.
The local business owner said she felt like the region had been "forgotten".
"Cairns deserves the funding, but so do we, and unfortunately it seems like we are not as important to the Government," Ms Claxton said.
"Marine berthing is a significant expense for commercial operators such as ourselves with zero dollars coming in the front door."
While tours may be able to run again with social distancing in place, Ms Claxton said it would be cost prohibitive to operate at half capacity.
"With less people on the tour, we won't be able to cover the cost of operations and the ticket price would be too high," she said.
"We have kept our team on the JobKeeper program but if we are not operating fully by September, we may have to let staff go."
Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said she was eager to work with both state and federal governments to achieve the best outcomes for operators and welcomed any financial support.
"The Whitsundays is one of the most reliant regions on tourism, for many businesses it is our lifeblood," she said.
"Sadly, many businesses have had to cease operations through this pandemic because without tourists it is not viable to open the doors."