COVID-19 rules leaves sour taste with tourism operators


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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A Sailaway vessel near Low Isles off Port Douglas. Image: Sailaway.
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The never-ending COVID-19 pandemic has again reared its ugly head, and this time the marine tourism operators have entered the fray expressing annoyance with virus rules.

And a recent meeting involving operators and the state’s Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe, was unresolved with operators disenchanted with coronavirus rules which are hurting business.

The key issue is social distancing rules for boats going out to the Reef.

Port Douglas-based Sailaway’s owner-operator, Steve Edmondson, said he welcomed and appreciated government ministers and agencies engaging with industry and starting to acknowledge the impact made to tourism with significant influence on regional employment and its economic contribution outside tourism.

“Tourism is not broken; just everyone was told to stay at home. The Great Barrier Reef is, and will always be, an iconic attraction to Australia and we encourage our Aussie friends to come to Tropical North Queensland.

“Australia is in an enviable position and now is the time to Travel for Good and support local business. January, February and March are essential times to visit with booking flexibility and generally great weather with rain in the forest.

“Interestingly, we were running four tours a day supported by international visitors this February and March,” said Edmondson.

Edmondson advised that he had also written to John Lee, Acting Director General, Department of Tourism, outlining a number of key issues. 

In the letter, Edmondson kindly requested relaxing of “buffet” service simply by allowing guests to use serving tongs rather than a dedicated crew member to select their items from platters, which are closely supervised and available, after mandatory sanitising or washing of hands before taking their own plates and/or portions. 

Scott Garden, of Passions of Paradise reef tours, told the Cairns Post rules that drastically limiting the number of people allowed on board boats defied logic.

“It is just ludicrous, they make their own rules.

“It is insane, it is just a double standard – they’ve made the rule, dug their heels in and they’re going to stick to it,” Garden told the Cairns Post.

Weighing into the debate, Federal MP for Leichhardt Warren Entsch was quoted saying that the State Government’s social distancing rules for boats going out to the Reef were “draconian”.

Speaking in parliament, Mr Entsch said the State government was refusing to make public the so-called health advice that this decision has been based on and reef operators were being forced to operate on less than 25 per cent capacity.

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