Superyacht 'Sarissa' dwarves opther yachts at Mackay Marina in 2013. It was rumoured to belong to Lachlan Murdoch.
Superyacht 'Sarissa' dwarves opther yachts at Mackay Marina in 2013. It was rumoured to belong to Lachlan Murdoch. Lee Constable

Superyachts: Moor opportunities at port

INTERNATIONALLY regarded as a world-class sailing destination, the Greater Whitsunday Region has the potential to woo lucrative superyacht and cruise ship traffic to its marinas.

Greater Whitsunday Alliance chief Garry Scanlan said increased visitation to the region's marinas through tourism vessels would provide a huge boost to the local economy.

"Superyachts have significant purchasing and supply chain requirements - everything from food and supplies, fuel, fresh-cut flowers and luxury items being delivered daily to repairs and maintenance and shoreside touring,” Mr Scanlan said.

Mackay Tourism general manager Tas Webber agrees.

"I think it would be great for the region, superyachts are a high yielding market -when they come to town they spend a lot of money,” he said.

"If you look at Gladstone, for example, cruise ship visitation has built up the touring market. Large tourism vessels guarantee a certain amount of guests on a day trip and they've really been able to expand their day-trip market because of this.”

Mr Webber suggested regular day trips and tours to destinations such as Eungella and Cape Hillsborough would be key to attracting superyacht and cruise ship traffic.

"It's a long-term strategy for the region, but it's important to commence these strategies now so we are able to harvest them when the time is right,” he said.

Reeforest Adventures owner Col Adamson believes that time is now.

"If a cruise ship was set to come here in two months time we'd be ready to set up regular tours, no dramas. We've done it before in the past and we could do it again,” he said.

"There's more for people to do here in Mackay than in Townsville and Gladstone - so why wouldn't we be able to handle cruise ship traffic?

"We've got so much potential here in Mackay, we need to chase it.”

The current infrastructure at the Mackay marina is able to accommodate cruise ships and superyachts.

And Mr Webber said guests' ability to hop off a vessel at the dock would be an attractive selling point to cruise operators.

North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation chief Nicolas Fertin said they were well aware of the economic injection cruise ships and superyacht traffic would deliver to the port community.

"We have been working with Mackay Tourism and state agencies to ensure potential proponents know Mackay's port is ready, willing and able to welcome tourist vessels,” Mr Fertin said.

Read more on Our Future Mackay

So what is holding the region back from taking advantage of what seemingly could be an economic windfall for the tourism sector?

Current legislation - the Coastal Trading Act 2012 - prohibits foreign-flagged ships from chartering in Australia.

Mr Scanlan said the prohibition of these vessels was the greatest inhibitor of growth to the Australian superyacht industry but there appeared to be bipartisan support for reviewing the legislation.

The Federal Government's discussion paper into reforming the Coastal Trading Act supports Mr Scanlan's assertion.

"Superyachts are highly lucrative within the tourism sector. It is estimated they currently generate around $1.96 billion annually and with these proposed reforms the industry estimates it could contribute an additional $1.12 billion to the Australian economy by 2021 . . .” an excerpt from the paper reads.

Mr Scanlan said it was unclear when the review process would be completed, but GW3 was currently lobbying Federal Government to revise the Act at the earliest opportunity.

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