Friday 1 February 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

Douglas Shire Councillor Rod Davis reports about the looming tourism crisis in the idylic seasside town.

The ballroom that is Port Douglas's tourism sector is seeing a lot of ball bearings rolled onto the dance floor.

It's hardly news to the world, given the front page of today's Courier Mail, and just about every front page of the Australian this week, that Michael no-longer-the King's MFS, is in deep trouble.

With MFS owning some 40%, some say more, of the bed rights in Port Douglas, along with a small and insignificant lot of land known as the Sheraton Mirage, clearly things are not all rosy in resort paradise.

But as if MFS's woes are not enough, as they try to gain the cred needed to dig deeper into debt, at a time when credit is looking as free flowing as water in the desert, both creditors and investors are getting nervous, whilst MFS Chairman Andrew Peacock tries to rearrange his rather ruffled feathers.

And as if the empty town syndrome of February isn't depressing enough, to have, on top of this, the many contractors of town, dashing for their debt recovery lawyers, is hardly what we would hope for, in the more peaceful off-season.

Since the hammering of the pilot strikes of the 80s', the tourism operators of Douglas have repetitively regrouped, shackled together as a team, and got on with it. The current incarnation of this grouping, is the renaissance Port Douglas and Daintree Tourism Ltd, which, with some friends in Council like the writer, Rod Davis, has seen a sizable budget increase and a very successful managerial reorganization, which, well, kicks butt.

But a cloud hangs not only over MFS issues but also, the Port Douglas Daintree Tourism. Despite my spirited attempts, the Douglas Shire refused to update the PDDT's contract to its 3 year term, leaving less than 17 months, maybe 2 years income assurance ahead.

The question sitting before us, and at the feet of folk like Kevin Byrne and Val Shier, is whether Cairns will introduce a tourism levy, to do as Douglas does, with Douglas's $400K pa donation to the PDDT.

Privately, I understand Byrne favours the levy, and Val is looking at it. As the guy behind the drive to almost double the PDDT's income, I have more interest than most in insuring the PDDT's survival, both in terms of continued funding, and the PDDT's self autonomy.

Doug Ryan, energetic CEO of the Port Douglas Daintree Tourism, indicates that Stella, the tourism arm of MFS, continues to trade soundly, and all its bill's are being met, as negotiations are underway for MFS to sell Stella, complete with all its sub brands, as one entity. Tony Cannon, the Ray Groups' Port Douglas manager, reports that his subbies have been asked to suspend, not terminate works.

Tony gets as much info from the press, as he does internal sources, as the doors around MFS affairs are not exactly wide open.

So its very much all about suspended animation. Will MFS sell Stella without drama?
Will Cairns continue to offer the PDDT's operators a viable income source, and a good degree of autonomy, or is the PDDT about to be absorbed into TTQ's machinery, and its funding expired?

Will Port Douglas's best designed Bale projects kick on? Will the world financial crisis sideswipe all these machinations? As the big chill freezes the homeward bound Chinese workers, at the same time the Federal Reserves blows its reserves to keep America's debt addiction fuelled, and as above 3% inflation, forces Australian interest rates in the opposite direction to US rates, we are indeed moving into uncharted waters, and the HMAS Douglas Shire, as always, is at the head of the fleet.

It may sound a bit self serving, but this is no time for Douglas to be lead by basket weavers, bureaucrats or those with little tourism experience.

Whilst I'm not immune from a past of financial storms, I have at least been in the deep end of tourism, banking and government games long enough to know what is going on, outside of potholes and garbage collection, and if you want my professional profile or for my views and background in tourism.

Douglas has made it through rougher seas than this before.... Crisis, what crisis?

We are competent and resilient here in Douglas, and we are not being taken down by amalgamation or an MFS, and infact, we in Douglas are likely to help solve MFS's problems by the sale of Stella, as well as lifting the tourism promotion business in Cairns itself, by having Cairns rise to the occasion, with its own Douglas style levy.

No comments: