Calls for clearer message on state of the Reef
A confused marketing merry-go-round has put tourism promotion on an ill-fated collision course with a global doom campaign - and reef operators are sick of waiting.
Plunging visitor numbers, failed attempts to turn back the tide on Great Barrier Reef gloom-mongering and a blurred perception of how Far North Queensland sells itself have come to a head.
Industry stalwarts are now calling for the creation of a city-centric marketing body separate to Tourism Tropical North Queensland - a hyper-local bureau specifically selling the brand "Cairns: Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef".
Passions of Paradise operator Alan Wallish has been taking visitors snorkelling and diving for the past 30 years.
He said the marketing problem was at a do-or-die climax.
"It's staring us in the face - enough is enough," he said.
"If we don't do this, nobody is going to do it for us."
Mr Wallish was one of a growing list of tourism veterans calling for the new bureau to be formed alongside TTNQ, which would operate as a broad regional body.
Down Under Cruise and Dive's Peppi Iovannella said he had not seen the Reef healthier in his 31 years of operation.
He had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on direct marketing of Cairns to European and US wholesalers.
"What we lack in Cairns is a tourist bureau - Kuranda has one, Port Douglas has one, Mission Beach has one and Townsville has one," he said.
Both operators thought Citizens of the GBR did well straddling a positive activism tightrope promoting tourism while fighting climate change.
Citizens of the GBR chief Andy Ridley said momentum had finally started picking up pace in the past six months.
"It was incredibly hard because we're trying to do something really different - to design a new type of conservation organisation where the sum of its parts includes tourism, councils, airports and is non-political," he said.
Enterprise North executive manager Kevin Byrne argued public funds - including $50,000 annually from Cairns Regional Council - should not go to a group whose climate change charter was at odds with tourism efforts.
"Much of their activity is counter-productive to the messaging we want," he said.
Right or wrong, the message was not getting out.
French tourist Aymeric Hamel admired the Citizens of the GBR's million-dollar statue on the Esplanade yesterday.
"Basically we've heard something like 85 per cent of the Reef is dying," he said.