A decision by Qantas to cut flight services to tourism hotspots such as the Whitsundays and Uluru could threaten the viability of tourism businesses in those areas, industry groups say.
Qantas chief executive Geoff Dixon yesterday said the airline and its low-cost spin-off Jetstar will cut flights on routes including Uluru to Melbourne, Uluru to Sydney, Sydney to the Whitsundays coast and Adelaide to Sunshine Coast in an effort to offset skyrocketing fuel costs.
Tourism Whitsunday chief executive Peter O’Reilly says the loss of the direct flight from Sydney is a “shattering” blow to tourism businesses in the area.
“Business in the area will go broke as a direct result of this decision,” O’Reilly says. “Visitor numbers to the area have been booming, and in fact there was a strong case for increasing capacity, so we are completely bewildered and deflated by this decision.”
O’Reilly says the Qantas flights are one of the main means tourists used to get to the Whitsundays, with close to 2000 people flying into the area each month during peak periods.
He predicts resort operators on the Whitsunday Islands will be hit hardest but the cuts, but says a wide range of businesses across the region will suffer.
“It’s not just tourism businesses that will be affected, it will be the newsagents and the small stores – all of the islands are tourism-driven economies, so the entire community will suffer,” he says.
One business that will be affected by the Qantas decision is Whitsunday Shuttle Service, which provides transport from the local airport to many of the resorts in the area.
Director Roger Franks says he shares O’Reilly’s bewilderment at the move to cut the flight. “Numbers to the area have been growing and the flight out of Sydney was often full, so yes I am non-plussed about why they would cut such a popular flight,” Frank says.
But Frank says while some businesses in the area may go through a difficult adjustment period following the cut, the outlook for tourism in the Whitsunday region is overwhelmingly positive.
“The announcement was disappointing, but people will still come. I wouldn’t be surprised if another airline steps in to the gap, but either way the push from tourists is there and I think the area will continue to grow in leaps and bounds,” he says.
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