Northern light

Matthew Templeton, Chairman – Superyacht Group Great Barrier Reef

19 December 2016


Matthew Templeton, Chairman – Superyacht Group Great Barrier Reef, spoke at the recent ASMEX conference, outlining the region’s aims and achievements since he took the helm five years ago. Moving from turbulent times through the GFC, Matt says the group, Cairns and the broader Australian superyacht industry are enjoying a new era of prosperity and positivity.

What facilities do you have in your region that appeal to international superyachts?

Cairns is very fortunate to boast everything a superyacht is looking for in a port. We have purpose built superyacht berths at Marlin Marina, up to 140-metres, and new facilities at Reef Marina in Port Douglas. Both marinas offer security and privacy, but also the convenience of being a few minutes’ walk from the heart of the city. For encouraging yachts to stay longer, the comfort and enjoyment of the crew are vital.

Cairns has three shipyards, which combined can cater for the majority of SY in our region. BSE has the ability to slip larger yachts, and place them in sheds, while Norship has a 400 Tonne travel lift, perfect for smaller yachts and tenders. Backing the shipyards are numerous highly skilled trades – meaning that even the most demanding work can be produced to the highest standard.

There is an International Airport with direct flights across Asia (direct to Singapore, Hong Kong, Auckland, Japan, China), and we see this as key to supporting the growing charter market. The airport is only five minutes’ drive from the marina and can service and support private jets and helicopters.

We also have the Great Barrier Reef International Marine College, one of the most capable marine training facilities in the country. This offers numerous mandatory and short courses, and has in the past developed and run bespoke training for visiting yachts.

Finally, and most obviously, we have the natural beauty that is the GBR. Not to be outdone, Cairns also boast a second World Heritage site in the Daintree. While the reef and rainforest attracts a lot of attention, a short drive (or flight) inland places you in the ‘outback’, among stunning savannah country.

What yacht shows or industry events do you attend and what is your message?

As a not-for-profit, funded by our members, we have a limited budget to travel and attend shows. We primarily focus on those in our region, as we feel these best support our members.

Singapore, Tahiti and AMSEX are always on our event list. We would like to attend Monaco and Fort Lauderdale more regularly in the future.

Our message is very simple: Cairns is a capable and experienced superyacht destination.

To support that, we conduct an inbound familiarisation, as we find the best way to demonstrate our capability, infrastructure and services, is to show people first hand. This will continue to be a major part of our marketing into the future.

Where do you foresee the largest growth markets for Cairns and the north?

Pre the GFC, Cairns saw most of its visitation on the back of refit and maintenance. Since then we have struggled with consistent shipyard work, however our visitation numbers have remained strong. This indicates that the destination, facilities and services are a draw card.

We have obviously great potential to increase our refit and maintenance work, and with that drawn in additional yachts, and recover our lost ground.

I feel however that the greatest growth markets will come in the form of charters – both the domestic fleet, and eventually the foreign-flagged fleet. This will in turn drive demand on our yards to conduct maintenance on the yachts, during their off season, or between charters.

How significant is the charter industry in your region?

Cairns is home port to several yachts, which are available for charter. We are seeing continuous growth in the number of domestic vessels operating out of Cairns.

The big impact for our region really comes from international yachts relocating to Cairns for a season or two, and hopefully conducting maintainance during that period. Until the current regulations are amended to make the process of foreign-flagged charter more flexible and simplified, I doubt we will see any significant changes in the market.

How about the Commonwealth Games in 2018 – do you predict an influx of superyachts for this international event?

The 2018 Commonwealth Games offers a real opportunity to put Queensland non the map for Superyachts, but there needs to be a concerted effort driven by, or at least funded by, the State Government. The superyacht sector needs specific and targeted marketing if they are going to consider attending an event such as this.

Our group doesn’t have the resources, nor would it be fair to our members, for us to focus to greatly on this one particular event. We would be very happy to work with the State Government, the Games Committee, and Tourism Groups to ensure that the significant benefits of speryacht visitation are considered.

What are some of the barriers to visitation in the GBR and FNQ?

The major barrier at present is the foreign-flagged Charter regulations. We know there are vessels wanting to charter, and some have tried, but the system is just not supportive. This is of course a national issue, not a Great Barrier Reef/Far North Queensland-specific issue.

There has been a lot of work with the GBRMPA (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) to ensure the GBR is welcoming to SY visitation and cruising. With our recent work in the Whitsundays, I believe that is now the case.

The final barrier is our ability to market the destination. Being not-for-profit, we just don’t have the funds to run the sort of campaigns we would like to. We get significant support from our regional council, however I believe the State and Federal Governments need to acknowledge the value of thesuperyacht industry and start carrying some of the costs, particularly in terms of destination marketing.

How are these challenges being approached?

On the foreign-flagged Charter issue, SYGGBR is working with Superyacht Australia to progress this issue for the national good. We also engage heavily at our local and State government level, to ensure the local and regional benefits of enabling foreign-flagged charter are not lost.

The work with GBRMPA on the Whitsundays is all but finalised. There is a due process which must be undertaken by GBRMPA, including a period of public consolation, before any changes can be passed. We will continue to work with GBRMPA over the coming months, to ensure our needs are met.


Why should state and federal governments support and facilitate the superyacht industry?

The economic benefit from superyachts (while not well documented to date), is known to be immense. In Cairns alone, we estimate $22 million in direct spend from superyachts visiting in 2015. We know that many of those yachts would have travelled to other parts of the State and Nation, and continued to spend generously.

The majority of my members are small and medium businesses, and therefore directly supporting the superyacht industry, is supporting small business, regional employment and upskilling our trades.

The State and Federal Governments need to recognise the value of the superyacht industry, and contribute to its growth.

At ASMEX, discussions turned to the health of the GBR – from your vantage point, what are the threats and how is the state of the Reef?

The Reef is a complex environment, with a multitude of stressors impacting it daily. I would foremost advocate for everyone, particularly the media, to take a step back and refrain from believing every alarmist piece of news they grab from the internet – this only fuels the misinformation that exists and makes finding the truth and the factors of the matter almost impossible.

Without a doubt, the changing climate is the greatest long term threat. Sea level temperatures are known to cause bleaching, while stronger and most frequent storms cause damage to coral and sea grass. Excessive rain creates fresh water layers which kill coral, and also generates run off, flushing pollutants into the ecosystem.

There is no single action that will protect the Reef. It’s a series of small changes to our behaviour that will have the greatest effect. This is not the responsibility of Cairns resident, or Queensland residents, or Australians for that matter. The causes of climate change are global, and therefore it is a global responsibility – and we must keep that in perspective.

Off Cairns, there is plenty of evidence demonstrating that many parts of the reef are entirely untouched by this latest natural bleaching event, and I expect that is the case across the whole GBR. SYGGBR will continue to work with GBRMPA and other organisations to ensure the facts are reported.

What are some triumphs and achievements your group has made in the past year or so?

In 2011, when I first began working with the group, the industry in Cairns was having a very hard time, and we made a decision to focus on marketing the destination, alongside our refit and maintenance capacity. Five years on, our visitation numbers are back to pre-GFC, while we continue to work on rebuilding our refit business.

To a certain extent, I feel that worst of the times are behind us, and we are now entering a new age of the Australian superyacht industry.

For our small group, with only local government support, to have weathered those long years, I feel is a triumph to our regions dedication to supporting superyachts.



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