by Jeni Bone
The Queensland Tourism Industry Council’s chief executive, Daniel Gschwind, says the total damage to the industry from the floods and now the cyclone, may approach $1 billion.
Tropical Cyclone Yasi expected to hit Queensland coast Wednesday night - Image NASA
Not even Oprah and the global reach of her three episodes, much of them dedicated to Queensland following her brief stay in Australia, can salvage Queensland's image abroad. Daniel Gschwind fears the industry will now be battling a perception that Queensland's a 'damaged state'.
According to Gschwind, many tourism operators report trading on 'an oily rag', some as low as 25% capacity since Cyclone Larry in 2006. 'There is no way of knowing how this will impact on Queensland's tourism industry, except to say there will be massive losses.'
Authorities say it's too early to say how north Queensland's key tourism asset, the Great Barrier Reef, will fare. Acting as a natural wave break, the Reef will take the brunt of the storm surge associated with Cyclone Yasi. At Category 5 level, it is likely to have the force of a nuclear bomb and authorities at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) ARC and James Cook University are predicting massive damage to the Reef's structure, its flora and fauna and structures on the islands that dot the Reef - Queensland's main tourist magnet.
Further to the impact on tourism operators - hotels, attractions, marinas, the Great Barrier Reef itself - agriculture is likely to be decimated, perhaps up to 50%. North Queensland supplies 80% of Australia's banana crops and many of those are in the path of Cyclone Yasi. After Cyclone Larry in 2006 (Category 4), banana prices rose to $15 per kilo. Around one-third of its sugar cane is also in danger. Cyclone Larry in 2006 caused damage to about 50 per cent of North Queensland's sugar cane crop.
And if Cyclone Yasi retains its strength all the way inland to Mt Isa, experts forecast immeasurable damage to the mining communities and their infrastructure - another blow to the Sunshine state's productivity which has already been felt on world markets after the flooding of past weeks.
The insurance industry is preparing for another expensive hit. Queensland insurer, Suncorp, has insured itself against damages. It says net claims from Cyclone Yasi won't top $10 million.