Rent relief lifeline for CQ tourism operators
LIVING on a tropical island off the Capricorn Coast has been anything but paradise for Wayne and Laureth Rumble during the coronavirus pandemic.
The couple manages popular tourist getaway Pumpkin Island which has not done a day's trade since restrictions forced its closure five weeks ago.
In a double whammy, they also manage Elysian Retreat, an island resort in the Whitsundays which has suffered the same fate. So no income at either business and uncertainty over when the doors will be able to open again has meant double the stress.
But the pressure cooker the husband and wife team finds itself in has simmered thanks to a Queensland Government rescue package announced late Tuesday.
What the government's $33.8 million commitment to waiving state land rent and leases for six months means for the Rumbles, is a game-changing saving of almost $50,000.
Needless to say, Wayne and Laureth, who have managed Pumpkin Island since 2009, slept a little easier on Tuesday night and woke with some renewed hope yesterday.
"This is amazing news for us," Mrs Rumble said.
"The rent is quite a large part of our expenses and obviously being closed and not having an income, it's a huge relief for us.
"We are very, very grateful for this help."
More than 6000 farmers, businesses, tourism operators, and community and sports clubs won't have to pay state land rent for six months under the series of measures announced this week to protect businesses and jobs.
Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham said more than 90 tourism lessees across the state would save an average of more than $30,000 each.
He said farmers on pastoral lessees would save on average around $3300, and some local recreation clubs would be spared upwards of $4500.
Lessees don't have to apply, and those who have already paid their rent for April 1 to June 30 will receive a refund or if requested, a credit.
In situations where lessees have entered into sublease arrangements with another commercial business, the lessee is expected to pass on the appropriate amount of land rent savings to the sublessees.
While Mrs Rumble said the announcement was a game-changer right now, she also revealed that tourism operators were far from "out of the woods" yet.
"We've been closed since March 23 and we don't know how long we have to remain closed for," she said.
"We've had cancellations now up until the end of the year - our calendar is just emptying out.
"We (Pumpkin Island) get a lot of our business from interstate, Sydney and Melbourne, and Elysian gets a lot of international guests so we've been completely devastated by these travel restrictions.
Mrs Rumble said it could take two years or longer for some tourism operators to recover if they were even able to survive that long.
"The problem is once we do re-open, it's not like a retail store where the next day someone walks in through the door," she said.
"With most of our guests, it takes a little bit of preparation for people to book their holidays."
While the Rumbles wait for the green light to return to trading, the bills keep coming even if there is no income.
"We've been through cyclones and bushfires before, but coronavirus has definitely been the most challenging thing we've had to deal with," Mrs Rumble said.
"We do risk assessments in all of our business planning but we'd never factored in a pandemic.
"We've been absolutely worried about just pulling through. Islands are expensive to run, even though we've cut our costs to bare minimum.
"Even though there is no income, we still have expenses to cover each month, and I feel all of the islands are in the same position - Great Keppel, Lady Elliot, Daydream, Hayman, Hamilton."
While for now the seven staff on Pumpkin Island with the Rumbles have been spared, their colleagues in the Whitsundays have not been so lucky.
"At Elysian (Retreat) we used to have eight staff members but now we only have two," Mrs Rumble said.
"We had to drastically cut our staff there due to the effects of the pandemic."
Pumpkin Island normally operates at 89 per cent occupancy and caters for a maximum of 34 guests.
Capricorn Enterprise CEO Mary Carroll, on behalf of the tourism industry, welcomed the announcement.
"The news has been gratefully welcomed by operators including Great Keppel Island Hideaway, Great Keppel Island Holiday Village, Pumpkin Island, Freedom Fast Cats, Keppel Bay Sailing Club and others," Ms Carroll said.
The Queensland Government announcement comes hot on the heels of a $94.6m Federal Government support package for zoos and wildlife parks.
Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary's Kieron Smedley led a campaign calling on government to consider relief for Queensland's wildlife parks following closure due to COVID-19, and that was delivered this week.