Airlie business hopeful a 'quiet' phase is short-lived
WHILE concerns over a downturn in trade in the Whitsundays are evident to some business owners, others are hopeful the current "quiet" phase will be short-lived, and are looking to ways to boost the region's economy.
Whitsunday Chamber of Commerce president Allan Milostic said the current downturn was a result of Cyclone Debbie devastating short-term tourism prospects: "this is the tail end of the cyclone".
"Nobody was planning last year for extended holidays in the Whitsundays, and that's what we're feeling now," Mr Milostic said.
He also said the decision by Tigerair earlier in the year to suspend its service from Proserpine Whitsunday Coast Airport to Brisbane had also hit the overall number of people coming to the area and had eliminated visits from the "impulse traveller".
"They used to have flights for $49 each way and people would jump on that and go for a holiday," he said.
Mr Milostic said the Whitsunday Chamber of Commerce had met with a consultant from Lime Intelligence who was helping prepare a business case to be presented to the airlines as part of a drive to increase flights.
He said the Chamber of Commerce was focussing on Airlie Beach's Main St which had been the worst affected by the current decline in visitors, especially retailers, restaurants and small tour operators.
"Any traders I speak to say this is worse than when the GFC hit," Mr Milostic said.
"I think a lot of them are going week-to-week at the moment.
"Pretty much anyone in the Main St is struggling just now.
"We need some short-term fixes like a few extra events to give those businesses a quick shot in the arm.
"And people need to forget about the cyclone and come back to the Whitsundays as part of their normal travel plans."
Mr Milostic said domestic marketing and more cheap flights would help provide a boost.
"There's not many people overly happy in town," he said.
"Everyone hates being negative but all I'm hearing is concerns at the moment."
Ivan Cortes, one of the owners of Mika Live BBQ and Bar, said his business had been 50 per cent quieter than usual and he was experiencing the quietest period he had had in the past three years.
"It's really, really simple - we need to bring some people to this area because it has been really quiet," Mr Cortes said.
"It's cheaper to go to Bali so that's what people are doing. If you can find a cheaper flight then that's what you'll do."
He said he hoped the budget airlines would provide more flights to the Whitsundays.
Tania Jones, owner of Airlie Beach's Just Tuk'n Around, said the reduction in Tigerair flights had made it "a lot harder for people to fly in and out".
"There just doesn't seem to be enough flights and it seems to be making it hard for people to come and go. It should be made simple," Ms Jones said.
Fish D'vine co-owner Kevin Collins agreed there was "no doubt" additional flights would entice more "affluent high spending customers".
"The additional flights, when cancelled, were noticed because it was passengers who would stay four or five nights," Mr Collins said.
"And they're more inclined to go out every night and go on a cruise every day.
Mr Collins said it had been "quieter" recently but May and June were traditionally slow months for business.
"Last year was a bit of an anomaly because of the cyclone," he said.
"Last year, for those who were open, it was a pretty good year and this year it is back to a normal May/June pattern."
He said businesses could panic around this time of year, but by July he expected visitor numbers would increase with events across the region.
"I say to staff, 'Don't worry about the customers you haven't got, worry about the ones you do. Make sure they have a great time and go away really happy," Mr Collins said.
"As soon as you get sucked into the negative mentality it rubs off, then you really will be struggling."
A Tigerair Australia spokesperson said this week the airline was committed to providing budget air travel across its domestic network.
"We regularly review our flight network and schedule to ensure that it is closely aligned with market dynamics, customer demand and operational requirements," she said.