Tourism Prevention Officers curtail back-to-business in the Whitsundays.

While we all appreciate that health department bureaucrats are trying to make good decisions in a difficult and ever-changing environment, there are times when those decisions defy logic. 

One such situation regards bareboat charters. In the Whitsundays, charter companies were originally told they could charter vessels for overnight stays to family groups or couples. Then this advice was retracted and they were told “day trips only”.

One of the best operators in the Whitsundays is Cumberland Charter Yachts. They consistently take home tourism awards, not just for the region but State and even Australia wide. Right now, Director and General Manager Sharon McNally has $20,000 worth of bookings for immediate charters. She has at least another $191,000 in forward bookings. 

But her boats sit idle because they aren't allowed to be out over night.

Why? The charterers will have touched winches, comings, handles, tables and most of the other surfaces on a boat. Touching them again the next day does not increase the chance of spreading the virus. Nor does using the toilet twice instead of once. They are allowed to have a nap on the bed after lunch, but not over night. It defies logic, when Australia urgently needs to get the tourism sector back in action, urgently needs to get people employed and urgently needs to get businesses like Cumberland fully productive.

They have full support from AMSA, the water police and the BIA, as well as local MP George Christianson. They just need Maritime Safety Queensland to retract the ludicrous “day trips only” directive.

BIA Report

The boating industry is closely related to tourism and many of our members have felt the brunt of COVID-19 which has restricted movement and discretionary spending. The boating industry is hurting with significant staff layoffs and business closures.

The BIA is an advocate for the charter industry which is largely comprised of small, family run businesses which have been affected severely by COVID-19, on top of the previous three years of challenges presented by: Cyclone Debbie in 2017; shark attacks in 2018 and 2019; and media coverage of climate change effects on the reef.

The BIA is supporting charter businesses such as member and award-winning business Cumberland Charter Yachts (CCY) based in the Whitsundays who have expressed alarm at recent confusion on control measures.

On the 2 May CCY were advised by local Water Police Whitsunday in conjunction with Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority that bareboat charters in the Whitsundays would be allowed to operate hire and drive charters. The advice they received from local Police stated: Persons can engage in this activity ‘for pleasure or for mental health benefits”. There are still limitations on 1. distance 50km from home   2. who can be onboard (under same roof (family) or 1+1). They may stay on a vessel overnight.

On 8 May, however, MSQ issued advice retracting this permission related to overnight charters. This created a frustrating situation; as bookings were taken, disease control measures put in place, and charterers were already out on the water or planning to be soon. For the industry to have to unwind such bookings is not workable or indeed acceptable.

The BIA is asking the Queensland Government to revisit this issue and allow charters by household units or 1+1 to stay overnight within 50 kms, as per the original advice from Whitsundays Water Police. This would help keep this important business and tourism section in the Whitsundays viable, people in jobs and support for social benefits that can arise from escaping on the water in what is a low-risk activity.

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JPK August 2023
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