On board the Wave Rider, Anthony Heeney scours the ocean looking for clues that he is near some of the world’s largest animals.
- Thousands of whales begin their long migration on Australia’s east coast
- Tour operators hope for bumper season to boost struggling finances
- After closures and shutdown of international borders, tour operators say future outbreaks could be devastating
The skipper is finally back on the water after the chaos of a global pandemic that has brought an abrupt end to the business of him and his wife Jodie, Port Jet Cruise Adventures.
As thousands of whales, mostly humpback whales, begin their long migration to Australia’s east coast, Mid North tour operators like the Heeneys are desperate to bounce back.
But he said the Port Macquarie company, which had five employees on JobKeeper, had found a way to stay busy during its lean season.
“There wasn’t much we could do to make money, obviously being closed, but there was still some maintenance to be done and childbirth costs. ”
It is not yet known whether the company could suffer another lockdown.
“It would be a huge, huge (impact) on everyone – I feel for the Victorians,” Heeney said.
“As soon as we can all get vaccinated, I think that’s a good thing.”
Hopes to spot Migaloo, the “rock star”
Mr Heeney, like many in the whale watching and boat tourism industry, is hoping for a bumper season, including keeping an eye out for the beloved White Humpback Migaloo.
“[We’re] hoping for a big season – Migaloo always helps. “
Whale-watcher Leigh Mansfield watches Port Macquarie Lighthouse almost daily during the northward migration, pointing tour boats in the direction of the famous whale.
Mr Mansfield has seen whales for decades and said the magic of seeing “the biggest animals on earth” has never worn off.
Mr Heeney credited the NSW Government’s Dine and Discover program by providing some support for international tourists.
The voucher program was supposed to end in June, but with just $ 185 million spent of the $ 500 million offered, it was extended until the end of July.
Over 4 million people have downloaded the vouchers in NSW, but less than half have been redeemed.
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council Economic Development Director Liesa Davies said prior to the extension the program had been well received locally.
With a $ 459 million tourism industry in Port Macquarie alone and international borders set to be closed until mid-2022, local tour groups are depending on significant numbers of local tourists this winter.