WELCOME BACK: Tourism industry stakeholders in collaboration with Tourism Whitsundays and Tourism and Events Queensland launch the 'Welcome Back' national ad campaign from Whitehaven Beach.
WELCOME BACK: Tourism industry stakeholders in collaboration with Tourism Whitsundays and Tourism and Events Queensland launch the 'Welcome Back' national ad campaign from Whitehaven Beach.

'The Whitsundays are well and truly open for business'

WHILE Ocean Rafting owner Jan Claxton wouldn't want to relive the past year, she believes Cyclone Debbie "brought out the best” in the Airlie Beach community.

The tour operator, who runs the business that won gold in the Queensland Tourism Awards with her husband Peter, said visitor numbers to the Whitsundays had regained strength and she was "proud” of the realistic messages about cyclone damage that had been conveyed to the rest of Australia from the battered shire.

"We were honest in the message we put out. We said, 'Come and have a look,' and we've not hidden the fact that we had a cyclone.

"We've been very pro-active about showing people that this is what happens when you have a cyclone. You have to be transparent and honest and you have to do the education for others,” Mrs Claxton said.

"One year on as a community, if you consider what happened to us, I think we've done exceptionally well.

"We've also had so many workshops about how to handle things better and how to learn from our mistakes. "As a community, I think tourism bounced back first. We really got on our feet as soon as possible and did our very best.”

Ocean Rafting crew Gosta Ehrnst, Peter Hearnshaw of Airlie Beach Tourism, Todd Robertson, owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton and Tom Jones on their return from Whitehaven Beach.
Ocean Rafting crew Gosta Ehrnst, Peter Hearnshaw of Airlie Beach Tourism, Todd Robertson, owner of Ocean Rafting Jan Claxton and Tom Jones on their return from Whitehaven Beach. Peter Carruthers

She said the biggest challenge for the region had been slow insurance claims for "a lot of people” who suffered.

"Most of my friends still haven't got their homes fixed and rents went up. Just being a local and trying to keep everyone around you with a positive frame of mind has been hard.

"As far as business goes, I think we've had to work twice as hard. It wasn't business as usual. We had to rethink, and spend a lot of time and effort on training.

"It was definitely a challenging year and I wouldn't want to do it again, but I think we can be very proud.”

Mrs Claxton said the conversation surrounding climate change - including cyclonic weather and bleaching - and their effects on the reef had been taking place since 2001, but it was time to take note.

"I think now people can't ignore the messaging any more. They've got to sit up and listen.”


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