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30 July, 2021

Cruising needed for revival

FOR many Far North Queensland tourism businesses, COVID had been a watershed. A true defining event that has forced them to re-evaluate their business, operations and customers and change focus to create an immediate future and look for new markets.

By Peter McCullagh

Like many local businesses, Hummers and Harleys were underpinned by a booming cruise industry as well as interstate and overseas tourism visitors.

In February last year, business was booming for Hummers and Harleys’ Tours. They had recently expanded with the purchase of an additional stretch limousine. Owners Rory Murphy was optimistic as to their future.

“We really invested heavily in our business. The international, interstate and cruise industries were keeping us at capacity. Things were really working out well.”

Barely three months after the second limousine went into service, the pandemic hit with cruising suspended, international borders closed and interstate borders constantly changing leaving the popular tour business in a difficult position.

 According to Tina and Rory, the outcome has been “dreadful” resulting in a 70 per cent cut in business for the energetic tourist attraction.

 “We would never have bought the second stretch Hummer had we known what was going to happen,” Tina said. “We bought it solely to look after the cruise ships coming to Cairns.

“The cruise ships calling at Cairns and Port Douglas were good for business in other ways as well. They added a real buzz with the passengers in town spending money and having a good time.

Since the closure of borders as well as the cessation of cruising both Tina and Rory have had to look for new markets, and carefully review they way they positioned their business.

“If it was not for the locals supporting us, we would have not survived.

“We have seen a massive lift in locals booking a holiday treat. Since international tourism is off the books at the moment, locals and visitors from Brisbane are booking us for hen do’s, birthday tours or just an extensive regional day-tip where we look after everything and plan the itinerary they want.

“Obviously we would love to see the cruising industry back in the water. Our business was ideally suited for their passengers.

 “We really enjoyed taking cruise passengers touring in our Hummers. It gave everything a great vibe.”

Like many tourism operators, Tina and Rory cannot understand why the carefully managed resumption of domestic cruising is forbidden and that there is still no plan for its restart.

 “If it is carefully done it is a no brainer,” Tina said “We have discussed it and we can’t see the difference between having nightclubs open or going to the football and being on a cruise ship.

 “It just doesn’t make sense when a cruise ship could travel safely from Brisbane to destinations such as Cairns and Airlie Beach.”

 President of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises Australia, Sture Myrmell, said Tina and Rory Murphy’s account is typical of many tour operators whose businesses have been hit by the suspension of cruising.

 Mr Myrmell said their experience highlighted cruising’s multiplier effect generating $5 billion annually in economic activity in Australia prior to the pandemic including $1 billion in Queensland.

 “Cruising is also vital to regional economies, and this emphasises why it is so important for federal and state governments to engage and agree on a pathway for the resumption of cruising,” Mr Myrmell said.

 “As things stand, it will be months before any cruise ship can return to Australia, but it is urgent to begin the restart conversation now so that businesses that depend on cruising can plan for the future.”

Whilst Australia wrestles with the constantly changing COVID situation, the tourism industry is the focus on billions of dollars in assistance, whilst this has been vital to operators like Tina and Rory, the prospect of welcoming back their major source of business is very enticing.

“Surely cruising can recommence with a strict COVID plan. Coastal cruising from Brisbane to Cairns is a relaxed way to unwind, and having the ability to stop off and spend in coastal communities is a way to boost the economy.

“Why can’t you cruise from Brisbane to Cairns, you can fly and even take a train. If they can have a COVID-safe plan approved, why can’t we have a COVID-safe plan for cruising.

“Our business and many more needs cruising safely back in the water.”

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