WHY DO TOURISTS COME TO CAIRNS?
Many organisations are paid big money by federal, state, and local governments to answer this question. Local resident Bill Cummings has been the recipient of this largess over the years, and has produced a vast quantity of reports that look at this question along with other tourism information. And sadly these Compass Research reports are misleading and ineffectual.
Many of the reports produced for the region ask the question "Why have you come to Cairns". And then the surveys incorrectly and deceptively dump the answers together without ever finding out the REAL REASON. They group "rainforest and reef" together because that's how we market Cairns to the world. And yet less that 6% of visitors to Cairns go north of the Daintree (the REAL rainforest). The survey publishers claim it's the "nature experience" that entices people to come to Cairns. A fatal error in all of these surveys. And if we don't know why our tourists REALLY come to Cairns, we're making a tragic planning mistake for our future.
One word drives tourism in Cairns. It isn't "REEF". It isn't "RAINFOREST". It isn't "BEACH" OR "TROPICS". In our world of social-media driven marketing superlatives, only one word drives tourists to Cairns.
|TROPICAL REEFS AROUND THE WORLD|
We've been living off our superlative for decades. We hitched our wagon, and our economic growth, to this one word. And blind Freddy can see it's about to come crashing to an end.
There is little doubt that climate change is damaging our reef. It's damaging ALL the coral reefs around the world. And this unchecked climate change is compounded by water pollution, sediment runoff, and other human activities. The reef can't survive them all. Huge areas of the reef north of Cairns were heavily bleached this year, with many of the opinion that much of it will never return. Increased water temperature will kill all but the most hardy of reef corals. Thermal adaptation isn't in the cards.
Protection policies touted by ALL the Australian political parties in the run-up to the election are money down the dunny. As ocean waters get cooler further south of Cairns, coral is less likely to be killed off - at least in the foreseeable future. But sadly the die is cast and no amount of carbon reduction schemes is going to stop the inevitable.
NONE OF THIS HELPS CAIRNS.
Cairns tourism is built on the GREAT Barrier Reef. Not the MEDIOCRE Barrier Reef. Not the USED TO BE GREAT Barrier Reef. And when the public's perception of the GREAT Barrier Reef changes from "GREAT" to any other adjective,the Science is coalescing around the understanding that a 2◦C rise in ocean temperature will kill all but the most hardy of reef corals. Thermal adaptation isn't in the cards.
Protection policies touted by ALL the Australian political parties in the run-up to the election are money down the dunny. As ocean waters get cooler further south of Cairns, coral is less likely to be killed off - at least in the foreseeable future.
NONE OF THIS HELPS CAIRNS.
Cairns tourism is built on the GREAT Barrier Reef. Not the MEDIOCRE Barrier Reef. Not the USED TO BE GREAT Barrier Reef. And when the public's perception of the GREAT Barrier Reef changes from "GREAT" to any other adjective, the raison d'être for Cairns tourism ceases to exist.
When it's no longer perceived as "GREAT", but "DEAD", Cairns tourism-centric economy goes into a death spiral along with it. FACT.
This is REAL and should be treated as the crisis that it is. However our leaders are just sweeping it under the rug - content to deny the bleeding obvious. John MacKenzie and his hillbilly listeners think that the media "should just stop talking about it". Cueball regaled a group of blockheads at a restaurant recently about how TTNQ needs a team of "internet wizards" to go into social media sites and remove any discussion of the reef dying!
However the concept of "diversification" eludes our leaders. To them, "diversification" means more cruise ships, so dredge the harbour. "Diversification" means a larger tourist airport. Or a big fucking Chinese casino. We'll still have the sugar cane, but the commercial fishing will be gone. With upwards of 70% of the population living directly or indirectly on tourism, we won't need a population of 200,000 - 35,000 will do just fine.
Without the perception by the public that we have a "GREAT REEF" to see, there is NO REASON to travel to Cairns. Who thinks cruise ships will stop in Cairns to see a dead reef? Why would anyone spend $300/person to take a high-speed catamaran to see a dead reef?
$120M for dredging the inlet? Thinking leaders would have insisted that the naval shipbuilding projects be given to Cairns, as we establish a REAL diverse economy. Intelligent leaders would have demanded that a Tropical Medicine Research Centre and university study programme be opened in Cairns and not Brisbane - two hours flight time from the tropics.
We haven't even invested in other tourism products that might ameliorate the dead-reef downturn. Our beach resort suburbs have NO self-contained resorts and in fact no full-service hotels at all. Our tourism neighbour to the north, Guam, is also seeing the death of reefs along their coast but as they have primarily marketing Guam as a Hawaii resort substitute, they continue to grow strongly. They even market the "death of the Great Barrier Reef" as a reason to go to Guam, instead.
Unlike the death of coral reefs around the world, the end to Cairns will be swift when it comes. There is no way to predict when the public will suddenly realise that 24 hours in a flying tube to see something that is no longer "GREAT" isn't going to happen. With other drawcards Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, and other Australian locations will thrive.
Cairns? Without a crisis plan to expand the Cairns economy in the face of this impending disaster? Doomed.
(Staff have been working on this story for some time, and have been split over whether it should be published. We're not doom and gloom people. However sometimes you have to face ugly truths. . .ed)