Cathay's decision to pull flights from Cairns 'devastating'


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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FLYING AWAY: Cathay Pacific's planes won't be seen at Cairns airport after 27 October.

The region’s leading tourism body, Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD), said today the announcement by Cathay Pacific to discontinue their Cairns to Hong Kong route after 25 years’ service is devastating.

“I’m concerned for both the tourism and agriculture/aquaculture sectors, who rely heavily on the flight access.

“This is such an important link for visitors from the Douglas Shire’s key long haul western markets, particularly the UK,” said TPDD Executive Officer Tara Bennett.

Ms Bennett said TPDD is in discussions with stakeholders at all levels to determine if there is an opportunity to review the decision.

This decision follows last month’s announcement by China Southern, who will be suspending flights to Cairns for six months as part of a review.

The Member for Cook, Cynthia Lui, said she was disappointed that Cathay Pacific didn’t approach the State Government before making their announcement.

“I have been informed Cairns Airport is currently negotiating with Cathay Pacific.

“The Palaszczuk government has a $10 million fund to support international flights – more funding to partner with airlines than any government in Queensland’s history,” she said.

Tourism advocate, Gerry Ireland, said Tropical North Queensland’s China Strategy is under serious threat following this decision.

“According to Tourism Events Queensland’s International Visitor Factsheet, almost 2.8 million Chinese tourists visited Queensland in 2018, spending almost $1.5 billion, an impressive 25 per cent increase on the previous year. 

“However, although Chinese Tourist Visitors to Tropical North Queensland are still the number one source of International Tourists at 206,000, this represented a 5.5 per cent decline compared to the previous year,” he said.

Crystalbrook Collection CEO Mark Davie told the Cairns Post answers were needed.

“We can’t just sit back and say we’re disappointed.

“We need to understand why airlines are pulling out of Cairns, why is Cairns not receiving its share of Chinese visitors?”

This decision is of particular significance to Crystalbrook after recently opening its $130 million Riley Hotel in Cairns, with two more – Flynn and Bailey – next to open.

They are also in the throes of completing their revised Development Application for the re-development of the Port Douglas Marina. The DA will be presented to Douglas Shire Council.

Ms Bennett said she is particularly concerned about the impact this will have on our western markets, which contribute approximately 30 per cent of our visitation and significantly visit through our quieter summer months.

“The increase of Silk Air flights to daily in June will help to relieve some of this pressure, importantly they are slated to move to their full service Singapore Airline brand next year.

“TPDD strategies will continue to target our primary and secondary markets, identified through research and industry consultation, with a focus on visitors who travel during the destinations shoulder and summer months,” said Ms Bennett.

In light of the decision, Mr Ireland said it raised a number of pertinent questions:

  • How will the recent negative growth trend in China Tourist visitation be reversed, and when?
  • Is a joint and united Tourism-Business-Political Leadership Team in play to reverse or negate the Cathay Pacific decision?
  • Is there an “emergency fund” available, if needed, to drive an “emergency strategy plan” to protect this China Tourism Market Sector, which will generate at least $1.5 billion p.a. in 2020?

Mr Ireland said given the facts, it’s surely overdue that TTNQ and TPDD Tourism Leaders should be front-and-centre in providing the business and wider communities throughout the region, that they have robust and agile strategies in place to prevent a serious Tourism Recession in 2020.

“This is especially so in the Douglas Region, where tourism accounts for 85 per cent of the Douglas economy, and the local Shire is already struggling with a negative growth tourism economy.

“Now is surely the time for accountability from our tourism and political leaders, given what’s at stake in terms of jobs and future tourism infrastructure investments,” he said.

Ms Bennett said airlines make decisions based on the economic viability of routes, stakeholders in any region need to present a lucrative business case that stacks up against what competing destinations have can offer.

“TPDD is in discussions with stakeholders at all levels to determine if there is an opportunity to review the decision.

“The Queensland Government’s Attracting Aviation Investment Fund is used to attract and promote routes through Tourism and Events Queensland.

“Cathay Pacific is a leading full service airline perfectly positioned to carry high value travellers to our destination. We sincerely hope the representations being made by government at the state and federal level can assist in changing the decision,” said Ms Bennett.

Cathay Pacific has not provided a reason for its decision.

Cathay Pacific will suspend its scheduled service between Hong Kong and Cairns effective from 27 October 2019.

Reservations for Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong-Cairns flights have been closed for travel after 27 October 2019, according to the AirlineRoute website.

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