Perspectives / Is Tourism Port Douglas Daintree’s funding under threat?


Natalie, a twenty-five-year veteran of the tourism industry and current tourism business owner, explores her growing concern in a three-part series, for the future of independent local tourism organisation, Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD).

Is TPDD’s funding under threat by the new Mayor and Councillors, have deliberations begun regarding funding, and has, or will the industry at large be consulted?

What is the history of TPDD, its relationship with the tourism sector, level of expertise, and current funding level?

What does the ‘tourism’ in the recently advertised “Tourism and Economic Development Officer” role at Douglas Shire Council represent, and what does all of this mean for TPDD and the tourism industry of the Douglas Shire going forward?

COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways we will not know the true ramifications of for months, potentially years into the future.

For those of us in the tourism game, particularly who have battled the pilots’ strike, slashing of direct services to and from Cairns to North America, SARS, September 11, the Ansett collapse, the GFC, changes in government and policy and the impact on our natural environment from climate change, you could be forgiven for thinking we should resemble leathery, battle-weary punching bags.

Tourism is a resilient industry. When it goes pear-shaped, we don’t lie down, we bunker down, we don’t ditch each other, we come together, we don’t go off on individual, ego-driven campaigns, we pool our resources and famously hunt as a pack – we do that even in the good times, the tropical north tourism industry is famous for it. As cutthroat as tourism can be, when it really hits the fan, the industry forges into a strong, united, solid chain, linked together by a common goal – get the visitors to our destination. At the higher-level thinking, it is not about each individual town within an area, accommodation house, attraction, or restaurant, it is solely about the destination. Destination first, and everyone wins once the visitors arrive.

Therefore, it is with increasing trepidation I await the Council’s budget announcement regarding the ongoing financial support of TPDD post June 30 when the triannual agreement expires. Never has it been more critical to ensure our destination remains top of mind, immediately for the regional market, followed by the domestic market, and at the next possible opportunity, the international market. Destination marketing is the key to the tourism puzzle, without it, the world of consumers and the trade do not know we exist, regardless of how well we deliver our product.

From my observations over the past five months, I fear our independent, destination marketing organisation is in jeopardy, particularly as throughout the election campaign, Mayor Kerr, on both his website and in his response to questions posed by TPDD regarding ongoing funding and support in March 2020, at no point, mentioned TPDD by name – referencing only “a tourism body.”

Although Mayor Kerr expressed the importance of “promotional and marketing activities and engagement with members, stakeholders, and partners, including Council … by an independent body,” when asked directly if he supported the ongoing funding of TPDD, would not commit to “how much and in what way support will occur” (TPDD candidate questionnaire, March 2020).

I am in the business of sales and marketing – and that response is a round-a-bout way of saying no.

To date, Council has not publicly discussed, workshopped, surveyed, or consulted the tourism industry on the renewal of the TPDD funding agreement. This is exceptionally concerning given it is mid-May, in the middle of an unprecedented global tourism disaster, and the tourism industry is, in light of the potential lifting of travel restrictions, desperate to get on with the business of recovery whilst TPDD kicks into high gear putting the destination front and centre.

Mayor Kerr, when approached yesterday as to whether Council had begun internal discussions on a new TPDD funding agreement advised, “Council is currently looking at its budgets and the direction it will take post-COVID-19. As these deliberations are still taking place it would not be appropriate for me to speculate the end result.” However, who these deliberations are with, is unclear. An email request to the four Councillors asking if they had been consulted on the issue to date was sent this morning, and at the time of publishing, a response had not been received

So, deliberations are happening, with whom we are not sure, but seemingly with no input from those who are directly affected by, and in some cases, reliant on the outcome?

I welcome comments from tourism operators who have been consulted, surveyed, or interviewed on this subject to come forward with further insight.