Friday 29 October 2010

A tourism levy will be the death of Val Schier

It's just another bloody tax they want to slug us locals. That's how most will see the long-proposed tourism levy that Cairns Regional Council mayor, Val Schier wants us all to pay.

On the back of three general rate rises, increases in the cost of water and other Council services, amounting to close to 35% since March 2008, and on top of a 16% rise in electricity costs, poor real estate and rental market, this additional cost will go down like a bag of cold sick with the majority of Cairns folk who have been under financial pressure for over 18 months.

Sure we need to support our tourism industry, often said is the backbone of the local economy, or is it?

Of course there's is a precedent to not tax the community or particular business sectors with a levy. Chatting with some long-term Cairns residents, they say if you put a levy on businesses for tourism, you will necessarily have to put a levy on to pay all small businesses that suffer in a downturn.

"No one fell over to subsidise the florist industry when it was on its knees," Rob Williams told me. "I don't ever recall the city throwing money on the table when the cane industry falters, or when my mango farm had no mangoes because of a crook season."

Rob witnessed the period when no one gave a dam when Woolworths and Coles blackmailed and forced small business, like independent bakers and butchers out of the market. He pointed out that the problem with the lack of tourists in Cairns is that there is stuff all for them to see that they can't see in other places cheaper, and Townsville is killing us.

I agree with Rob Williams when he says it's organisations like Tourism Tropical North Queensland headed by Bill Calderwood, and Advance Cairns who voted to destroy the heritage building known as the Aquatic Club, that was perched on Trinity Inlet for over 100 years. 15,000 people signed a petition to save it and the State Labor Government and the success Cairns Council supported the decision for its destruction in 2008. And this was their innovative way to develop and support a diversified tourism product?

As recent history records, the Regional Council and then CEO Noel Briggs led a charge and castigated Councillor Di Forsyth when she put principles on her sleeve. She was the only one in the Council who had the guts to stand up for what was right.

"If the Council and tourism bodies want to see another mobilisation of ratepayers and business to heap vitriolic criticism on the tourism industry and the Cairns Regional Council, they are going the right way about it," Rob Williams says. "When my [Tropic Jazz] members hear about this proposed levy you can be sure a hornet's nest will erupt."

The destruction of the old Cairns Yacht Club building, known as the Aquatic, was but one example of a Council and tourism industry that just doesn't get it.

TTNQ is pushing for the tax that they call an "economic development levy." Chairman Mao, I mean Chairman Bill Calderwood, says it's "absolutely essential to fast track the industry's recovery." he plans to lobby Advance Cairns and Cairns Regional Council for the cash injection. In the first year of this new Council, the introduction of a special tourism levy did not get majority support.

Mayor Schier only wants tourism businesses to cough up, unlike a similar levy on the Sunshine and Gold Coast where many contribute.

However my beef is that giving money willy-nilly to this so-called tourism authority, is like pouring your lottery winnings overboard in the Great Barrier Reef. Why have so many tourism specific businesses left TTNQ over the last five years? I'll tell you why. Because they saw little or no value for the nearly $1,000 annual membership fee. Many also question the effectiveness of a regional tourism body to represent hundreds of tourism products, when most now direct market to visitors via excellent websites.

I've often pondered what would be the difference if TTNQ closed shop completely. How would visitor numbers change. I bet there wouldn't be much change at all.

As ratepayers, we dished out $1.5 million to TTNQ last year. Calderwood told the Cairns Post he is concerned that Council will dish out grants to other businesses to help with economic growth, and therefore they would get less of the pie. He wants the lion's share of promotion money to go to TTNQ. Bill is under the delusion that his mob are the only folk who can effectively market our region.

According to their annual report, TTNQ "has been successful in achieving strong leverage and in 2009-10 converted core revenue of $7.17 million to an overall spend of $16.998 million. That is an incredible leverage multiplier of 2.37. So every dollar invested via TTNQ converts to $2.37."

Rob Williams son David, runs Fair Dinkum Bike Tours, and he relies on visitors to Cairns.

"As a business owner in the tourism sector that has been here in Cairns for the past 10 years, I find it outrageous that the very people trying to keep the community alive are being taxed," David Williams says. "Wake up Val, you are way out of line to even think we will agree to this. Have the people of Cairns not suffered enough with the current economic situation? You want to slug us again with another cost."

Williams says that TTNQ and other funded tourism organisations, only look after the premium clients, and not the smaller operators who are the life-blood of Cairns.

"I decided long ago to cancel my membership for this very reason," David Williams said. "The simple answer is to cull out the free-loaders in the Council and tourism organisations. Stop decimating our primary industries and start facing reality. They say the economy is getting better, maybe in your locally-funded offices it is, but not out here in the real world."

He's not alone. TTNQ lost members all over the place, with the most dramatic fall over the last five years. Small operators were getting slugged large membership fees, and saw little return. The trouble with TTNQ is that they're answerable to no one. They are far from accountable. It's so easy to sponge up huge dollops of cashola for junkets up and down the country and all over the world, and not show a return on investment.

Forcing business to join TTNQ by a mandated levy is crazy, and I doubt any small business operator will stand for it. With greedy booking fees and commissions up around 30% in some cases, operators are at their wit's end.

Of course, the cost to visit Cairns, to stay in Cairns, and to enjoy local tourism products, is some of the most expensive in the world. A trip out to the Great Barrier Reef is up to three times more expensive than other tropical reefs around the world. A 20-minute trip on the Skyrail is going to sting you $60. You won't get a decent hotel under $150 a night, and a day tour to Cape Tribulation for the family will set you back close to $400.

More than ever before, travellers are web-savvy and hunt out their own arrangements, with more "free and independent" visitors. Pouring more and more money into a black hole like TTNQ is no magic solution to our economic woes.


MB said...

Where was Val when Cairns had the chance to secure the air warfare ship building job in 2009 which was worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the Cairns' economy?

Hans Van Veluwen said...

Our promotional bureaus are set up to refer potential clients to those who contribute monetary donations beyond the set contribution....perfect recipe for promoting corruption. They have a hand in the current downturn we find ourselves in so giving them more money will bring the same results as we have now.They have failed to see the changing demographics of tourism and change direction with it, more and more people want value for money...our tourism products are certainly not that...I see more and more people touring in hire cars and camper vans.
The rental car companies are the only ones in the Tourism industry not complaining.
We have failed to create goodwill for our industry...the casualisation of our wage system has created great uncertainty and under peanuts, get monkeys...not conducive to creating a happy tourism industry.
We urgently need to analyse the situation and change direction.

Brad Ryan said...

Well I hope it doesn't get through. I want to know what the councillors are going to do to save the region from becoming a back water to the rest of the state as I see no one is doing anything other than talking which seems to around and around in circles. Lets fix the problems with ideas that are from the real world not the fantasy world the mayor comes from.

Deep Sea Divers Den said...

She is irrelevant and the sooner she goes the better!!!!!!!!!

Marjorie Claire said...

What the .....?

Stu Allen said...


Leigh Dall'Osto said...

It won't can't.

Fran Martinovic said...

Hey didn't Martin Ferguson hand over $80 mil to the tourism 'industry' just recently. I do realise that there are a lot of people in Cairns who are still hankering for the old days of Joh, who would have done something like this. But Cairns is a very expensive option for tourists when we have Thailand, Bali and Vietnam right on our front door. I recently heard of a family who took their kids out to the Barrier Reef and it cost them $1500.00.

Leigh Dall'Osto said...

Skyrail cost us nearly $300 and that only gets us to the destination!! More spending when you get there.......lunch for 5 $80, Butterfly Sanctuary and Venom Park $100, Trinkets from stores (including hand made lollies) $50 then add the $20 for ice-cream and we have spent the average weekly income in half a day!!

Fran Martinovic said...

That is an awfully expensive day out Leigh. Between you and me, none of those parks are worth more than an entry fee of $5. In the Blue Mountains they have a scenic ride, it costs only $7.00 for an adult.

Lisa Robbie said...

isn't death a certainty for our Mayor anyway?

Brad Ryan said...

Well the greed of the mayor and the Cairns Regional Council has appeared again and this time the ratepayers will remove the problem at the next election we hope. When a region is already on its knees why keep kicking it. This is one of the reasons why the Cairns region is falling apart and other regions in the state are starting to power on. Wake Mayor Schier you have been asleep at the wheel for too long.

Lisa Robbie said...

yay Brad

Rob Pyne said...

I hope folks don't vote out those Councillors opposed to a levy and elect new ones that support it. This is a very real risk.
The Mayor's position is (to some extent) irrelevant, as long as 6 Councillors are opposed ... it will not happen!
Anyhow, I am yet to see a model for a level that I could support. It (tourism levy) also does nothing to diversify our economy ... which should be our main focus.

Shandy Whitaker said...

Didn't the paper today say that we will be benefiting from $3 bn worth of investment in the construction industry?

Colin Riddell said...

How dumb are we ? Read the cairns post most of that is already underway , hospital and stuff ,it is recycling programs already going ,how many local tradies will work on the wind farm ,sugarworld don't get sucked in.
Labor has 300 media spin doctors look closely my friends and others.
Show us some freah ideas and money blie!

KitchenSlut said...

Ummmm? Wasn't it Councillor Blake who was the biggest proponent of a levy the last time around or am I mistaken?

I haven't looked online but the Courier-Mail has done far better critical commentary of the issue this week. I find some of the attitudes of the commubity towards tourism as an industry just astounding and ignorant.

Tourism has some very different characteristics and industry structure which genuinely different it. Most particularly it is intrinsically interwoven with the quality of life of our local community more than others and Cairns punches above its weight in many lifestyle aspects because of tourism which also attracts other industries.

Also I have posted on Cairnsblog comments previously research links showing that GST revenue from international tourists are NOT adequately returned by the Qld Guvmint to tourism? perhaps someone can ask the four ALP state amigo's as the LNP seems too intellectually stupid for such a task?

Additionally, the tourism industry is NOT subsdised more and in fact is subsidised LESS that other globally traded, exchange rate sensitive industries such as manufacturing and agriculture. This comes from official data such as the Productivity Commission. YES, they are both MORE guvmint subsidised that tourism!

The critics of tourism funding in these comments are effectively arguing that money be diverted from Cairns to Adelaide to support military spending?

armyboi said...

I cannot wait for democracy to work it's magic. Local government elections will finally oust Val and her hair brained schemes. Her promises at the last election to keep rates low went by the board and now this. Tourism will not improve untill the dollar falls and it is cheaper for overseas and local tourists to visit the far north. As for costs involved with family's visiting local attractions? Our attractions need to take a good look at themselves. Black coffee in Cairns $3.00, in Port Douglas $4.00; does it cost that much to transport a coffee to Port?

armyboi said...

Long live democracy, for Val we get the chance to get rid of you very soon. Enough of your hair brain schemes, cultural precicts, rate payer funded pie-in-the-sky edifices to your name and council. The rate payers decide your future not you.

Warren Entsch said...

Looks like Mayor will shoo in the next 'lection?

Kevin has big gut and ugly jowls syndrome. Not a proper mentor for the communities children. Roman catholic and dear associate of Foley and Fr McKenna, Turd is suspect.

His false faith and false religion disqualifies him from every public office.

Lucky we missed out on building wartships, Cairns has enough bad karma.

My plan is to cover every street with every variety fruit trees.

Did you see all the iconic ancient mango trees dissappear? Nah lamb shanks pork and seafood. Cancer food fills our guts, we're Aussies.