Kangaroo Island Council hears deputation on cruise ship numbers

DEPUTATION: KI resident Sara Hourez gives a deputation on cruise ship numbers to the Kangaroo Island Council at its June meeting .
DEPUTATION: KI resident Sara Hourez gives a deputation on cruise ship numbers to the Kangaroo Island Council at its June meeting .

The Kangaroo Island Council at its June meeting on Tuesday, June 11 heard a deputation from local resident Sara Hourez on cruise ship numbers.

Ms Hourez has conducted extensive research into the impact of the 28 cruise ships that visited KI last season.

She spoke about the impact of the cruise ship passenger crowds on local services and also the visitor experience.

She was warmly thanked by the councillors for all her work on the issue.

Here is Mr Hourez' deputation in full:

Cruise Ships will be a good thing for the island.

This assumption started to change when I heard complaints and stories of frustration from very different sources.

I sent a few questions to 36 decision makers thinking their answers would be the end of the issue. And I waited.

A few weeks later The Islander published my questions. And the response was startling.

I was contacted by people in our community who could not speak up because their employment contracts had a clause that said they were not allowed to say anything about what they saw, thought or felt.

So health and hospitality workers, doctors, nurses, tour guides, rangers, office staff might speak to me about their first hand experiences but I could not identify them. All these people were motivated by concern - for passengers, patients, visitors, and more broadly, our island's reputation.

And I received calls from business owners who thought they would lose community and any future potential tourism campaign support if they spoke openly.

Why is there such a tight lid on something we should be celebrating? What's going on?

By March only a few of the 36 had responded so I wrote to them again and I found there are four broad issues.

There are economic benefits but no real evidence to support the multi-million dollar claims. I found claims change depending on who you are talking to. The Tourism Minister reported $18.6 million in direct benefits to the island but didn't say what that actually meant.

The Commissioner and TourismKI gave completely different figures in direct benefits, as did Tourism Commission Chief Executive when he made his presentation to you.

What do you think of the claim that 50 per cent of cruise ship passengers return within three years? That's a lot of people they are claiming revisit - before they actually do.

Both the Tourism Minister and the Tourism Commission stand by this figure arguing that this represents long-term benefits to the island.

The next issue is the visitation fee.

Why isn't there one?

Who decided that you wouldn't charge a fee?

Don't you have some say in any of these decisions?

The Tourism Commission says that no South Australian Council charges a visitation fee.

So that means that neither of the other two South Australian Councils charge a fee.

Does any other entity? How do we find out? What about the other states? Is that part of the deal with the cruise ship companies? I don't know. Whatever the reasoning Kangaroo Island is extremely attractive on any itinerary.

Why is it so difficult to get answers to the questions I've posed?

Our Health Advisory Council is limited in its ability to speak. It has publicly stated it needs more support because KI is only funded on resident numbers, and not for tourists, visitors, or cruise ship day-trippers. Increased funding may address this but not the potential exhaustion of our valued volunteer ambulance officers.

And if any part of the system fails, I hope our island health services will not be blamed.

My focus is now on destination damage.

It took months to get a reply from the Environment Minister who reassured me that everything was working well at Seal Bay, and that we should rest assured there were no problems at all and Commercial Operations, who run Seal Bay from the mainland, are on top of the increased demands during our peak season.

Are cruise ship passengers mostly accidental visitors as they grab the opportunity of being in the vicinity of our internationally acclaimed attractions?

If that is true and majority Cruise ship passengers aren't motivated by their love of nature, landscape, wildlife, but rather sudden access to a wonderful place well-promoted by the Tourism Commission.

Let's assume some cruise ship passengers have an unhappy experience, usually brought on by the time constraints caused by the long bus trip and the crush of sheer numbers. Imagine how they will share that unhappy experience with friends, family, and on social media.

Then there are the tourists who come here specifically to stay and enjoy the island over a period of time, during which they visit Seal Bay and Remarkable Rocks and are confronted with cruise ship crowds.

There's our tour operators who have to rush to Seal Bay to avoid the cruise ship buses or schedule a late visit, just to avoid them.

Has there been any discussion about what happens if the cruise ship passengers become our priority, they become essential and our businesses gear themselves to suit their needs? This may be happening already.

My point here is - Will cruise ship visitation change what we essentially offer to our other visitors?

You may think you don't have much say in these decisions being made on our behalf but you have a much bigger say than I have as a lone voice asking questions.

We are a boutique destination. We're not like anywhere else but we are fast becoming like everywhere else. Our reputation may suffer. We still provide a rare experience, getting rarer. Our reputation is our future.

I am not against cruise ship visits but I do believe that the number of ships and timing of their arrival need to be carefully monitored and controlled by us because decisions like this affect our Island's future.

At the moment there is action being taken across the globe not to stop the cruise ships but to ensure that decision-making is in the hands of local elected members - with an example of this being Lord Howe Island.

If we don't take an active role in our future, my prediction is that within five years we, as a community, will be feeling the negative effects of an unrestrained cruise ship industry and we will be saying to each other, "Why didn't we see this coming?"

Who I wrote to: Minister Environment and Water, Head of Department, Environment & Water Regional Director, NRKI, Minister Tourism, Minister Health, KI Health Advisory Service, Mayor & Councillors, Commissioner, Local State Member, Local Federal Member, SATC TourismSA; Chair, CEO & Board Members, TourismKI, Manager, Penneshaw Progress Association, CFS, KINRMB - Chair & Board Members, SA Ambulance.