What is the Impact of Cyclone Debbie on Tourism in The Whitsundays?

Mar 29, 2017

Update 30 May 2017
The Whitsundays are back in action and ready for you to come and visit one of the most spectacular destinations in the world!
Following Tropical Cyclone Debbie’s journey through the Whitsundays in late March the local tourism industry took a few days to recover and get back on track. At the time of writing the majority of operators were open for business with normal service resumed to many of the stunning islands and beaches that make this iconic part of the world a tourist hotspot.
Cruise Whitsundays have reopened their Reefworld pontoon out on the Great Barrier Reef and all other sailing, snorkelling and dive operators are once again visiting Whitehaven Beach and the other famous locations dotted the 74 islands that make up the Whitsunday group.
Queensland Park and Wildlife services report that 99% of campsites, tracks and toilet facilities are open again. Check this website for the latest information.
Hamilton Island was back up and running only a few days after the winds had died down with only Qualia, the luxurious 6* resort remaining closed for a premature refurbishment until later in 2017.
Daydream Island and One&Only Hayman Island have taken the opportunity to close for the foreseeable future and have brought forward major refurbishment work that’ll deliver even better experiences to their guests when their doors reopen.
Update 1:00pm 05/04
  • Most tourism operators are either already back up and running or will be by this weekend.
  • If you had a booking cancelled please contact us as there is a good chance we can find you an alternative.
  • The Hardy Reef pontoon may take some time to repair, so tours there will not be running for a couple of weeks.
  • Daydream Island and Hayman Island will be doing some work before reopening. If you have a booking there please check with your booking agent.
  • The region will recover very quickly and the Whitsundays already looks fantastic again (please see picture below from 2 days ago!).

Image may contain: ocean, sky, outdoor, nature and water

Update 11:00am 31/03
  • Most of the Whitsundays region is still without power and water.
  • Emergency teams have been working to evacuate guests remaining on the islands.
  • Road access is limited in and out of the area.
  • Most tours are cancelled for tomorrow and Sunday. Please phone the operator for a current status update or check with your booking agent.
  • Please be patient as most people in the Whitsundays have had no water or power for days. Think no showers and trying to sleep in 30+ degree heat without fans or air-conditioning!
  • Please check with your travel insurance provider as to how they may be able to assist.

Update 11:00am 30/03
  • The clean up continues, with access to Airlie Beach still restricted. All tours form Airlie Beach and Hamilton Island are cancelled for tomorrow.

Update: 5:30pm Wednesday 29/03/17
  • Ex Tropical Cyclone Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach (Whitsundays) yesterday - Tuesday 28/03 and is now a tropical low, moving inland and south.
  • Access to the Whitsundays is limited, with initial reports of superficial damage, trees down and power outages, but the Whitsundays is experienced with this kind of weather, they were well prepared and now it’s clean up time.
  • All Whitsundays tours are cancelled today (Wednesday), and most are cancelled for tomorrow (Thursday). Its likely most tours wont begin until Saturday.
  • We are calling our customers, but please call us if you have any questions.
  • All other destinations including Cairns are business as usual.

29/03/2017 By Ben Southall, Winner of the ‘Best Job in the World’ and AdventureFree Brand Ambassador

29/03 - What if I’m in the Whitsunday region right now? What can I do?

Be patient. The emergency services are working around the clock to bring back power, and clear roads to ensure everything is back to normal as quickly as possible. The Army is working to clear the Bruce Highway and both access roads into Proserpine, Mackay, and Airlie Beach, so at this stage access is limited.

Lend a hand. There’s no better time to help your neighbours out as people struggle to get their lives back on track. Clear the yard of trees and branches if at all possible but if any overhead cables have been brought down, don’t go near them – contact call Ergon Energy on 13 16 70.

Can I volunteer?

At this stage only trained professionals are required in the disaster area but you can register to be a volunteer for future situations here. Registered charities like The Red Cross may also be in need of volunteers.

What’s likely to be open?

With power still out in many places, shops are likely to remain closed until it returns. Generators can provide back-up/emergency power, but not keep a whole supermarket open! If you didn’t stock up on supplies before the cyclone arrived and are running out, it may be worth checking with your accommodation to see if they can help out. Aussies are pretty resourceful so you’ll probably find someone’s fired up the barbeque in the area, so follow your nose if you’re feeling a little ravenous!

When are the services going to be back online?

Currently Airlie Beach, Proserpine and some of Bowen and Mackay are without power and water, but teams are working to restore connections around the clock. Check the Ergon outage finder for more information. Mobile phone services seem to be operating in most regions. It’s worth checking the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone websites for the latest information. Home connections to internet services will also be affected and are unlikely to return until after the power has been restored. ATMs, EFTPOS and banks certainly won’t be operational until after the power has been restored but you may be lucky and find a resourceful shopkeeper who’s powered up a generator and worked out how to get their business back online.

I’m a tourist stuck in the area, what should I do?

Hold tight for now. There’s very little chance any of the tourist operations will be up and running in the next 48-72 hours so it’s worth trying to make alternative plans. If you can help out with any of the locals who need it, please do so. It’s the Australian way to roll up your sleeves and lend a hand.

Getting in and out of the area

Roads If you’re keen to continue your travels you may have to wait a few days before flights, buses, and trains are back to normal. At this stage Greyhound and Premier Motor Service are suspended until further notice. If you have your own vehicle it’s still going to be difficult getting in and out of the region. Check the QLD Traffic and RACQ website for the latest information on the roads. Flights Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Qantas flights into and out of Hamilton Island and Proserpine have been cancelled. Check this website for the latest updates. Ferries Cruise Whitsundays, the main ferry operator in and around the Whitsunday islands, are currently awaiting confirmation from the Harbour Master on when the Port of Airlie will reopen. Stay in touch with the latest updates through their Facebook page.

What if I’m due to arrive in the region over the coming days?

There are likely to be considerable delays and cancellations to transport and tourism operations over the next few days as the community gets itself back on track. It’s worth calling your travel agent or tourism operator to see if they can postpone your booking or, if your travel plans are too tight and don’t allow, explain the cancellation policy. Please be aware that many phone systems in affected areas are not functional at this stage. If this is the case, you can be assured the tour has been cancelled.

Will my tour be running?

It’s very unlikely that in the next 48 hours any tourism operations around the Whitsunday region will be operating. It’s worth checking directly with your travel agent or tour operator but remember they’re likely to be overloaded with phone calls, emails and messages from other concerned travellers. Check their Facebook page or Twitter feed for the most up-to-date information. And please try to be patient.

Will I get my money back?

99% tours will offer you a free change of date, or full refund if the tour is not going ahead due to weather. Some tours however require that you have travel insurance for cancellations due to weather. Check your ticket, or speak to your booking agent to check the cancellation policy.

Where else could I go instead of the Whitsundays?

It’s worth remembering that Cyclone Debbie only affected a very small part of Queensland. Her path was only around 150kms wide, which means other tourist hot-spots like Cairns, Townsville, Fraser Island, Brisbane and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts are very much open and operating as normal. Road access along the Bruce Highway will be affected between Mackay and Townsville, but flights over the area are operating as normal.

How will it affect water quality around the islands and on the Great Barrier Reef?

The intense winds have turned the azure blue water into a choppy brown mess over the last 24 hours, but within a week things should be back to normal. The cooler air, up-welling of cooler currents, and increase in rainfall will have slowed the current coral bleaching event that’s been affecting some of the reefs in the area. Every cloud has a silver lining.

What’s going to happen to the weather over the next few days?

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is reporting that Cyclone Debbie has been downgraded to a deep low pressure system, but it will still produce substantial rainfall over the coming days as it tracks further south. Localised flooding may occur so keep watching with the Queensland Police Facebook page for the latest information. The next couple of days will see further rain in the Whitsundays, but the winds will lighten and the forecast for Friday 31st March is Sunny!

Future bookings for tourism operations and what to do

There’s likely to be a big backlog of bookings for people desperate to get out and enjoy their holiday so expect full seats in the first few days after tour companies re-open. There’s always a natural vacuum after an event such as this with some tourists choosing to stay away but it’s actually the perfect time to get out and enjoy region and they’ll be significant discounts on offer too. Keep checking the travel agents and tour operators websites for the latest post-Debbie offers!

What about going to stay on one of the islands?

The island resorts of Hamilton, Hayman and Daydream were directly in the firing line of Cyclone Debbie so understandably there’s going to be a lot of hard work to clear things up. The islands are used to dealing with this kind of weather event though, so once the superficial damage has been cleared expect them to be operational again within a week or so. Keep checking their Facebook pages for the latest information.

Can I still visit the Great Barrier Reef?

Absolutely! There are plenty more access points to visit the reef than just the Whitsundays – Port Douglas, Cairns, Bundaberg, Hervey Bay and Lady Elliot Island are all very much open for business. We’re still waiting for an update from Cruise Whitsundays on how their Reefworld pontoon at Hardy Reef fared as it was in the eye of the cyclone, so keep checking their Facebook page for the latest updates. The Great Barrier Reef will certainly have been damaged in the areas where the strongest winds of Cyclone Debbie passed overhead, but coral reefs have been around for as long as cyclones have, and will recover over the next few months. When Cyclone Yasi had its impact in 2011 the reef went through the same process of regeneration.