Why time is running out to score cheap fares to Far North
CAIRNS has a rapidly closing window to get back in the ring after being beaten by its biggest tourism competitor in a race to secure cheap regular flights from Brisbane.
Pleas for swift action have rung out after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Tourism Minister Kate Jones announced the Whitsundays had locked down four Alliance Airlines flights a week from Brisbane with fares from $99.
Ms Palaszczuk said Whitsunday businesses were already fielding a 200-400 per cent increase in bookings, and urged southeast Queenslanders to visit en masse.
It came just days after she boarded the government jet to meetings in Cairns and called on southern travellers to drive to the Far North.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Mark Olsen said the deal was a surprise, but positive announcements for Cairns were not far off.
"It's good news for the Whitsundays, but not great timing for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef," he said.
"We're hoping to see some good news coming from our airline partners this week."
The subsidised Whitsundays flights - which drew criticism from Virgin after the embattled airline was not considered for the deal - start on June 22.
Cairns Regional Council Mayor Bob Manning said the Far North needed its own deals to be struck well before the holidays began on June 27.
"If we don't get packages out at least three weeks before the holidays, we won't get anything. People need that time to make their decisions," he said.
TTNQ and the Cairns Airport are in discussions with all major airlines - and contracts are almost ready to be signed.
"Indication from our airline partners is that they should be ready to make an announcement on flights by the end of this week. We are confident they will be on board for the school holidays," an airport spokeswoman said.
Timing will be critical, with TTNQ and its retail partners kicking off a major domestic campaign in southeast Queensland next week.
It will be a largely pointless exercise if flights do not exist.
"We're looking forward to including some fantastic aviation deals as part of the campaign," Mr Olsen said.
Dundee's restaurant proprietor Gary Low said some of the city's biggest tourism names wanted to organise a meeting to establish why Cairns was playing catch-up to its competitors. He said his restaurant was consistently booking out with the current 20-head cap, but he feared the initial fervour among locals for dining out might soon wane.
"It's the revenue we provide up here in north Queensland that supports their bloody spending. We need to be able to compete," he said.
Originally published as Why time is running out to win airline deals for Far North