'I own a business on Great Keppel Island and survived'

BACK in 2015, Geoffrey Mercer wrote to The Morning Bulletin saying "I hope to be wearing a t-shirt displaying these words - 'I own a business on Great Keppel Island and survived', dated 2018".

The words of the GKI Holiday Village business operator seem almost prophetic in light of the news that demolition will begin next week on the dilapidated Great Keppel Island Resort and his business is still happily ticking along.

Mr Mercer, who has run the island accommodation since 1998 and has been associated with GKI for 40 years, shared his perspective on how his "quiet alternative" business had fared and life on the island since the resort closed in 2008.

 

He did not blame resort developer Tower Holdings for closing the resort, saying it tried hard before closing, and said when a business owner was losing thousands of dollars each week, "you have a right to do what you want with your business".

"When I got the call saying the resort was going to close in one month, I remember putting the phone down and for some funny reason I was singing that song 'I'm still standing after all this time' by Elton John," he said.

 

LOCAL PERSPECTIVE: GKI Holiday Village business operator Geoff Mercer has witnessed the rise and fall of Great Keppel Island resort over the years.
LOCAL PERSPECTIVE: GKI Holiday Village business operator Geoff Mercer has witnessed the rise and fall of Great Keppel Island resort over the years. Allan Renikka

"I was probably thinking, 'wow, I'll be fully booked all the time because people would be coming to Keppel' but the wider media with the big newspapers unfortunately talked about Great Keppel, the icon, closing.

"So that's been difficult because the Great Keppel Island was the drawcard for the region and it was tough, the closure didn't come off the way I thought it would."

In the past, Mr Mercer has said he would have liked to have seen Tower Holdings' grand vision to revitalise the island become a reality, to not only boost tourism employment and enhance the local economy but to improve maintenance of the island.

"I have no doubt that the intent was certainly to get it underway and get it built but (Tower Holdings chair Terry Agnew) came up against government departments and ministers and it's probably been a hell of a ride for him and it's been a hell of a ride for us," he said.

 

ISLAND HOME: Geoff Mercer doesn't mind running guests around GKI to Long Beach to enjoy the walk back.
ISLAND HOME: Geoff Mercer doesn't mind running guests around GKI to Long Beach to enjoy the walk back. Contributed

"To have done it tough in your last 10 years and spend good money in perhaps a not-so-clever way, maybe it would have been better to cut my losses 10 years ago but it looks like I'm here for the long haul."

Mr Mercer confessed it had been demoralising running a business on GKI continually trying to get the message across that the island was open.

"Myself with 40 beds, there's next door, the (Great Keppel Island) Hideaway has 140 beds, Keppel Lodge has potentially 20 beds and there's houses for rent," he said.

"There's still this lovely dynamic that's still continuing at this two-and-a-half star level."

Mr Mercer said GKI was no longer a nightclub island and was now quieter and a place for those who love nature to visit to "really get away from it but it's only 14km and a half hour from the coast".

"To get to Long Beach and experience it with just one or two people is just magnificent," he said.

 

GKI MAP: Location of the Great Keppel Island resort.
GKI MAP: Location of the Great Keppel Island resort. Contributed

"The other 17 beaches to get to, it's not a huge job to walk for a couple of hours, and they're lovely walks."

Mr Mercer said he knew little about the resort demolition but hoped the resort's resources could be used by locals.

"I believe in the demolition process, there's so much there that we could nourish our businesses with that would probably get crushed by a bulldozer," he said. "We believe that not much would be leaving the island except the asbestos, that may be true."

 

Mr Mercer assumed the units on the hill, built in 1991 by Qantas, would remain along with the huge concrete restaurant building.

"I hear very clearly that the beachfront north and beachfront south are probably going to go, that would probably represent 90 or 100 units," he said.

Mr Mercer said he wanted to see the demolition start in conjunction with construction and for those workers to be accommodated for a few years.

 

PICTURESQUE: GKI: 'The jewel of the Great Barrier Reef'.
PICTURESQUE: GKI: 'The jewel of the Great Barrier Reef'. Allan Reinikka

He believed a future resort would be doomed without a jet runway for seamless travel.

"It would be lovely to see everyone on this island work together, to be benevolent in nature under a 'benevolent dictator' and perhaps we can all fall into line in a positive way behind that."



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