Tourism and political leaders disappointed with Cathay


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Despite considerable efforts to persuade Cathay Pacific from abandoning Cairns after 26 years, the Hong Kong-based airline has stuck to its decision and flights will cease in October.

And although Warren Entsch, the Federal Member for Leichhardt, said the decision came out of left field with no one seeing it coming, he still took a philosophical stance.

“They may reconsider and come back. In the meantime, we must thank them for their services and we must not be pointing any fingers. The decision was taken in China and we have to accept it,” he said.

Mr Entsch said Cathay’s request for $70,000 per flight was not a long-term solution.

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Elida Faith, the Labor candidate for Leichhardt in the May 18 election, said it is very disappointing to hear the decision from Cathay Pacific to cut their Hong Kong to Cairns flights. Cathay has a long history with our Cairns Airport.

“I will be speaking directly to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and Shadow Minister for Tourism, Anthony Albanese about the decision.

“We know how important our tourism industry is. Thousands of jobs rely on it. That’s why Bill Shorten chose to announce Labor’s flights policy and $250 million regional tourism package right here in Far North Queensland,” she said.

The representation to Cathay Pacific to reconsider their decision was considerable and involved Cairns Airport, Tourism Australia, Tourism and Events Queensland, Tourism Tropical North Queensland, Entsch, Cairns Mayor Bob Manning and Cairns MP Michael Healy.

Executive Officer of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD), Tara Bennett, said final confirmation that Cathay Pacific services will discontinue in October is extremely disappointing.

“Airlines make decisions based on the economic viability of routes and it would appear on this occasion competing routes have presented a more compelling business case.

“I’m concerned for both the tourism and agriculture/aquaculture sectors, who rely heavily on the flight access. I’m particularly concerned about the impact this will have on our western markets that make up approximately 30 per cent of visitation and significantly visit through our quieter summer months,” she said.

Ms Bennett said TPDD strategies would 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.

Tourism advocate Gerry Ireland said Cathay’s decision was inevitable, and obviously the result of planned commercial decision making.

“However, the commercial decision making around the performance of Far North Queensland Tourism marks a stark contrast.

“What we’ve witnessed from FNQ Tourism Leadership is classic reactive decision making, which in turn is the result of ‘crisis management’; a sense that future outcomes are launched off the back foot.

“You can’t make Tourism up as you go along, which is the dilemma facing both TTNQ and
TPDD. These organisations have no forward Tourism Budgets around Tourism Visitor
Numbers and Visitor Value, so results are always ‘accidental’,” said Mr Ireland.

Mr Ireland said the solution requires an overhaul to bring FNQ Tourism Leadership and Management into the 21st century; to ensure Tourism operates and performs in a performance based culture.

“For as long as the status quo remains, there will be more bad news for Tourism in Greater Cairns and the wider Port Douglas regions. Small and medium-sized Tourism businesses simply can’t withstand the impact of any more negative surprises.”

Douglas Shire Mayor Julia Leu said Council is deeply concerned about the impact that losing this long haul, full service airline and this important route will have on visitor numbers to Douglas Shire.

“We need more direct flights into Cairns, not less, and more people heading north on the Captain Cook Highway.

“The loss is a double blow for both tourism and our agriculture/aquaculture sectors, which rely heavily on the freight access for fresh seafood and produce,” she said.

Mayor Leu said there are still a number of unanswered questions and she hoped to gain further insight into the company’s decision at next week’s Far North Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils meeting in Brisbane.

“While the decision is deeply concerning, it is important to look at positives such as SilkAir’s move to increase daily flights next month, which may relieve some pressure.

“They have also indicated an intention to move to their full service Singapore Airline brand next year.

“I am confident that we can work with all local stakeholders who are working hard to fill the gap that Cathay Pacific will leave, if the door is shut on changing their decision,” she said. 

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