Cautious Optimism Greets Increased Silkair Flights


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Silkair set to increase flights between Cairns and Singapore. Image: Supplied.

Cairns Airport CEO Norris Carter has told tourism industry leaders that increased SilkAir flights could open a whole new avenue of markets for the region’s tourism.

According to Australian Tourism Publications, he said the benefit of Singapore Airlines and/or its SilkAir subsidiary flying in, would also be the number of different partners in affiliate membership programs and their links to Europe.

This is good news for Far North Queensland after talks failed to discourage Cathay Pacific from cancelling its 25-year service to Cairns.

And a Singapore Airlines spokesman said: “SilkAir remains committed to operating daily services on the Singapore-Cairns route from June 2019.”

Although, after the Cathay Pacific decision, this is what this region needed to hear, tourism industry experts such as Port Douglas Tourism Advocate Gerry Ireland is expressing caution.

“While the recent announcement that Silk Air will increase direct flights from Singapore to Cairns is a positive for Tropical North Queensland tourism, it would be folly to think we can all rest easy that we’ll see a tourism recovery.

“The solution to our international tourism recession in Tropical North Queensland is systemic, as can be seen from the serious declines in our Top 5 International Tourism Source Markets during 2018,” said Ireland. (See table)



Ireland said the challenge for TNQ tourism is global, since both international visitor numbers and visitor nights are in serious decline from Asia, UK, Europe and the USA.

“My own view is that we need an overhaul in how we manage our annual TNQ $3.5 billion tourism business, as it’s pivotal to our economic health and wellbeing.

“I am suggesting that we should do the following:

  • Recognise that we need to change how we think, plan and manage our tourism business;
  • Recognise that our TNQ tourism business requires a ‘commercial organisation’ to run it – TTNQ and TPDD are run as ‘not-for-profit’ agencies;
  • Neither have any tourism visitor numbers or visitor nights forward budgets, so in 2019 the results of 2018 above are mere reflections, with vague commentaries around why the serious declines have happened;
  • Recognise that supply driven tourism – airline seats and resort rooms etc. - will always follow demand driven tourism: Outcomes will always ‘follow the money’; and
  • Invest a lot more in the business of tourism – spending 0.001% of annual TNQ total visitor expenditure to promote the region ($4 million p.a. to promote a $3.5 billion p.a. tourism business) is simply ridiculous.”

“The Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest are exceptional natural assets that provide outstanding and memorable tourism visitor experiences. 

“However, we need a new and professional tourism leadership and management to deliver a sustainable and profitable future for this jewel in the crown,” said Ireland.

Meanwhile, Tara Bennett, Executive Officer of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, and Liz Ross, president of the Douglas Chamber of Commerce, both believe that increased SilkAir flights is a boon for the region.

“This week’s commencement of daily services from Singapore with Silk Air is a massive win for the Douglas Shire.

“Not only will it alleviate the pressure from the lost Cathay Pacific capacity in October, we will also have improved access to key markets with the affiliate Star Alliance partners,” said Ms Bennett.

Ms Ross said having SilkAir or Singapore Airlines will be great. “Having flown SilkAir into Singapore and then another airline to Vietnam, they are a very good carrier and if this gives them increased business in and out of Singapore it would be great,” she said.

In terms of luring the larger airlines to fly in and out of Cairns, Ms Ross said the price of fuel appears to be a factor.

“From what I have learned, the reason they are not flying into Australia so much is the price of fuel. Therefore the cost to the airline companies is what is making them rethink long haul routes.

“So, hopefully with Silk Air they can make it profitable and we may get people from other destinations,” she said.

Ms Ross also hopes the Douglas Shire can benefit from the increase in SilkAir flights.

“I hope we can. The Asian market is growing and will continue to grow. The Chinese market is being seen that will increase in people venturing into travel as their own economy grows.”

SilkAir, meanwhile, has celebrated the launch of daily services from Cairns to Singapore, with direct flights increasing from the current five times weekly owing to increasing demand.

The expansion to daily services will see the total number of SilkAir seats per week from Cairns to Singapore increase by 40 per cent, according to ETB Travel News.

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