ONE of the region's biggest international visitor drawcards, Great Barrier Reef icon Fanatsea Cruises, has set sail from the tough tourism climate in the Whitsundays for good.
Fantasea Adventure Cruising chief financial officer David Pollak said the recent economic downturn had made the tourism market too tight for both Fantasea and Cruise Whitsundays to viably service the Airlie Beach and island areas.
Cruise Whitsundays has now bought the right to Fantasea's service to Hamilton Island, the two Reefworld platforms on Hardy Reef, the vessel Charmer, and the land and marina holdings at Port of Airlie.
The deal is expected to come into effect as early as June 29.
"There has been a lot of back and forth between us since 2007... We were considering buying Cruise Whitsundays and they were interested in buying us.
"Anyone who has been in business in the Whitsunday area for any length of time knows how difficult it has been."
Despite several tough years, tourism in the region has experienced a turnaround.
The number of guests increased by 20% in the year ended March 2011.
Although this is all too late for Fantasea, Tourism Whitsunday chief executive officer Peter O'Reilly said having one cruise operator was good news for the region.
"Having the one major tour and transport operator will have its advantages. It will open up access throughout the region and one strong business model will be a benefit to the region," Mr O'Reilly said.
"There has been very challenging times for our tourism operators in recent years and it's sad to see businesses making tough decisions like this.
"Fantasea has operated in the area for a very long time and is one of our most iconic tourism brands, so it is sad to see them close the doors."
Mr Pollak said the company's concerns were with their workers, some of whom would be offered redundancy packages, jobs in other Fantasea Adventure Cruising operations around Australia or positions within Cruise Whitsundays.
- Carry more than 500,000 guests each year.
- Operate the popular 'Reef World' Hardy Reef pontoon.
- Cruising the Whitsundays for almost 30 years.
- Also operate services in Sydney and Townsville.