Whitsunday tourism company Airlie Beach Day Sailing has noticed a slight drop in customers since last year's shark attacks.
Whitsunday tourism company Airlie Beach Day Sailing has noticed a slight drop in customers since last year's shark attacks.

Uphill battle expected for Whitsunday tourism industry

AN INDUSTRY that contributes $6.4 billion to the national economy has taken a major hit in the past year, with island closures and bad weather just the tip of the iceberg.

One year on from three shark attacks in Cid Harbour, Whitsunday tourism operators are still feeling the effects.

Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk has concerns the situation could get worse after an announcement drumlines would be removed from the Great Barrier Reef following a Federal Court decision on Wednesday.

A shark was caught in a drumline in the Whitsundays after last year's shark attacks.
A shark was caught in a drumline in the Whitsundays after last year's shark attacks.

The Premier has voiced her concerns to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, saying the court’s decision would have “an immediate and detrimental effect on Queensland’s tourism industry”.

“This decision affects the ability of the Great Barrier Reef to continue to attract and support tourists,” she said.

Airlie Beach Day Sailing owner Dale Tansley said he had only been in business for two years but had noticed a definite drop in customers after last year’s shark attacks.

He said he normally avoided taking his sailing groups to Cid Harbour because of the negative perceptions of the area.

“People still say to us, what about the sharks?” he said.

But the drop in customers could not be blamed solely on last year’s attacks, Mr Tansley said.

“Since Christmas we really haven’t had the best weather, but I think things are starting to pick up especially with holidays approaching,” he said.

“We always get two different types of people, those who swim and those who don’t. That has always been the case.”

Mr Tansley said his customers were not necessarily scared, just “more aware” of the risks.

The Daily Mercury reached out to a number of other tourism operators in Airlie Beach, all declined to comment due to the sensitivity of the topic.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said it was no surprise, with most operators concerned about people’s perception of the area.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind

“Unfortunately when we talk about negative events it does reinforce this perception in people’s minds that the destination is associated with negative things,” he said.

“When people are making a decision about travel, the comfort, safety and security of the location is right at the top of their list.

“Australia is recognised as a very safe destination but when there is news of animal attacks or natural disasters it is never a good thing for the tourism industry.”

Although he could not deny the shark attacks had an impact on the industry, Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox said a number of other factors had a role to play in the slight drop in visitors to the region.

“I think tourism was a bit quiet for a number of reasons, we had two major islands offline for some time,” he said.

“There was also a number of damaged boats from Cyclone Debbie.”

Cr Willcox said he had noticed a terrific turnaround in recent months, with a number of major events attracting tourists.

Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox is positive the tourism industry will continue to pick up across the region.
Whitsunday Regional Council mayor Andrew Willcox is positive the tourism industry will continue to pick up across the region.

“Both Daydream and Hayman Islands have opened back up and we noticed the industry bouncing back around the time of the Great Barrier Reef festival,” he said.

“Attendance at Hamilton Island race week was also really positive.”

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said with a whopping $1.2 billion of infrastructure projects planned for the region, the positivity should continue.

“We acknowledge that the past couple of years have been difficult, but with so much investment planned we are certain that the region’s recovery will continue,” she said.

“Shark incidents throughout the region are rare and with the right precautions there is no reason not to enjoy the Whitsundays underwater world.”