Whitsunday virus funding snub, lifeline still available

THE Whitsundays have missed out on direct funding from the State Government’s $27.25 million coronavirus aid package aimed at softening the blow to Queensland’s tourism, agriculture, fishing and education sector.

However, the area may still benefit from $7 million dedicated to international tourism promotion as well as the waiving of fees for fishers and other resilience measures.

The aid package was announced yesterday with $4.8 million targeted towards Tropical Far North Queensland and the Gold Coast region.

A spokeswoman from Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s office said although the Whitsunday region would not receive a dedicated aid package, individual businesses in the area may still be able to access assistance.

“If they’re an export business or fishery that are affected specifically, they could be eligible for funding,” she said.

The spokeswoman said the aid would be distributed on a case-by-case basis and would require businesses to contact a dedicated small business hotline to access information and referral to support services.

The Queensland Government will also provide support for fisheries through market diversification and resilience grants with further information also available through a dedicated phone line.

Whitsunday Regional Council Mayor Andrew Willcox said there was no doubt that the coronavirus had affected the tourism industry in the Whitsundays.

“This virus has had a huge impact on tourism nationally and globally and like all tourist hot spots, the Whitsundays is doing it tough with a drop off in international visitors,” he said.

“I welcome the $27.2 million Coronavirus Aid Package announced by the Palaszczuk Government today but more needs to be done to assist our tourism stakeholders.

“Our operators have been hit hard in recent years with a series of setbacks and while they are a bloody resilient mob, there is only so much they can absorb and keep bouncing back.

“Individual businesses who have been affected can apply for assistance under the State Government package, but we need all three tiers of government, Federal, State and Local working together to provide the best outcome.”

Mayor Andrew Willcox said the council have teamed up with Tourism Whitsundays on an initiative to boost tourism for the Whitsunday region in the wake of coronavirus.

“On a positive note this situation has provided a perfect opportunity for domestic travellers to come and experience the wonderful Whitsundays, Heart of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.

“Our region is the heart of fun in the sun boasting cracker barramundi fishing at Lake Proserpine, beautiful swimming beaches in Bowen, real Aussie outback and pit pony experiences at Collinsville and, of course, the 74 beautiful Whitsunday islands off Airlie Beach.

“We want to provide an opportunity for some of the travellers who were potentially going to go to Bali or an Asian holiday to come and visit us in the Whitsundays and holiday with us in a beautiful, safe environment.

“Now is the perfect opportunity to Holiday Here This Year and our amazing Whitsunday tourism stakeholders are keen to roll out the welcome mat.”

CEO of Tourism Whitsundays Tash Wheeler also hoped the region would be able to benefit from the funding after the impact it has had on the industry.

“Tourism Whitsundays is awaiting advice on how best the Whitsundays tourism industry can access these initiatives to give the industry the shot in the arm they need.” she said.

“While our region experienced a positive Christmas and New Year period, the effects of the last three years have not provided the industry with the financial reserves they would traditionally have had.

“The bushfires and coronavirus have caused a significant impact on The whitsundays industry.”