Jobs, views, tourists on offer from sky-high development
A POTENTIALLY game-changing Airlie Beach project could soon be built and would not only create jobs and more tourism opportunities in the region, but would also undoubtedly provide one of the best views in the Whitsundays.
The Whitsunday Skyway is a proposed cable-car project that would link the main street of Airlie Beach with a nearby unnamed 430-metre-high peak in the Conway Ranges.
The cable-car would leave from a block of land on Waterson Way, behind Magnums Backpackers, and travel towards a summit overlooking Airlie Beach, the Coral Sea and nearby Whitsunday islands.
At the summit refreshments would be served and bushwalking trails would connect the peak back to Airlie Beach for keen hikers.
Australian Adventure Tourism Group (AATG) is behind the project and executive chairwoman, Elizabeth Hackett, said the proposal was first floated to local and state authorities about a decade ago without much interest.
However, the project gained traction in 2017 after AATG – at the time known as Jimmy Crow – received a $260,000 grant for a feasibility study as part of the Cyclone Debbie recovery fund aimed at rebuilding and growing regional infrastructure.
As Airlie Beach faces an economic downturn due to reduced tourist numbers caused by coronavirus restrictions, Ms Hackett said the project would be a huge boost to the appeal of mainland tourism as well as providing jobs to the region.
“(The Whitsunday Skyway) will create significant employment for a wide range of construction trades and consultants in the construction and development stage,” she said.
“More importantly, it will provide a great new reason for the tens of thousands of tourist coaches, cars and campervans that travel the Bruce Highway in both directions to take the turn-off to Airlie Beach and experience the mainland Whitsunday attractions and also take a trip to the nearby islands.
“(It would be a) major new long-term employer of local people both in the daily operations of the all-weather facility and in the ongoing maintenance and operation of the cableway and the facilities provided.
“There will also be opportunities for local businesses to benefit from the increase in visitation to the region and town as will there be opportunities for cultural and interpretative tourism.”
Ms Hackett said there was no clear timeline for when the project may be given the green light given its size and scale.
However, she indicated the company’s management team had received very strong and genuine support from all levels of government and industry, which she called a “good start”.
Ms Hackett also said AATG’s directors were confident they would be able to secure funding for the project once approved, given the “significant contribution” tourism makes to the Australian economy.
“The company believes that this project should be strongly supported by all levels of government and each level has a role to play,” she said.
“The initial proposal was accepted and accelerated by the responsible minister (Minister for State Development, Tourism and Innovation Kate Jones) who has since facilitated the progress through the regulatory challenges.
“At a regional council level, the Whitsunday Regional Council is very supportive (and) AATG was successful in securing an early stage grant via a Federal Government initiative to undertake the initial formal feasibility assessment.”
The proposed development has the backing of Whitsunday MP Jason Costigan who earlier this month called for the State Government to approve the Skyway.
He likened the project to Cairns’ Skyrail cable-car facility, saying it would be a “much-needed economic development” in the Whitsundays in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The reshuffle of cabinet, with a new Deputy Premier and Treasurer, means the cable car project should be revisited as a matter of urgency, especially if the proponent still has the capacity to deliver the project as planned, which provided for a wonderful land-based attraction while respecting the environment and traditional owners,” Mr Costigan said.