Important information: changes to special tourism permissions - COVID-19

The Authority acknowledges that travel bans and work restrictions associated with the outbreak of COVID-19 have placed severe financial hardship on businesses who use and access the Great Barrier Reef.

On 10 June 2020 the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Board approved the suspension of the reasonable use latency provision (clause 16) of the Managing Tourism Permissions to Operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Policy for 18 months (1 March 2020–30 September 2021). Visitation data from this period will not be included in future reasonable use assessments, unless it is of benefit to the permit holder.

Other COVID-19 links include changes to permit processes and changes to the Environmental Management Charge across all charge categories from 1 April 2020 to 31 December 2020.

Special tourism permissions

Special tourism permissions relate to capped tourism activities usually in the Cairns, Hinchinbrook and Whitsunday Planning Areas* which allow operators to continue to do something that was permitted before Plans of Management or regulations came into effect, but which is no longer generally permitted (see Identifying Special Permissions below). Historically, special permissions were granted to those permit holders who proved they met eligibility criteria. In recognition of the valuable opportunities provided by special permissions there are some important management arrangements and conditions that must be met if you wish to retain existing ones.

If you have one of these permissions it is a latency requirement that you commence your operation within the first two years of being granted a new permit. In addition to this, over the course of the permit term, you must achieve ‘reasonable use’ of the permission — this is making use of the permission on average for at least 50 days per year, per vessel over the life of your permit term.

Provided the minimum requirements above have been achieved and you also apply for your next permit before your current one expires, you will retain first option to continue your special permission. Any special tourism permission that does not meet the reasonable use requirement will usually become 'spare' and potentially available for re-allocation. Also any special permission that is revoked, surrendered or not renewed also becomes a spare permission.

Allocating special tourism permissions

Any spare special permissions that become available for re-allocation or ones identified in Plans or regulations that have never been allocated are allocated through an expression of interest (EOI) process. These opportunities will be publicly advertised and an application period nominated. The expression of interest process is competitive and all applications are assessed against the quality of others who apply for the same opportunity. It is important to really consider carefully any commitments and information included in the application and how this is presented to give yourself the best opportunity of being successful when these opportunities arise.

Identifying special tourism permissions

A special tourism permission is one that allows a capped tourism activity and includes any one of the following:

  • access to the Whitsunday or Hinchinbrook* Areas without a booking
  • anchoring access to the Cairns Area without a booking
  • cruise ship access to the Cairns or Hinchinbrook* Areas without a booking
  • access to a Sensitive Location without a booking in the Cairns or Hinchinbrook* Areas or access to a setting 5 area in the Whitsunday Area
  • more than 50 days anchoring access per year to a Cairns Area Location
  • larger group size than that provided for in the setting in all Areas
  • larger vessel size than that provided for in a location in the Hinchinbrook Area
  • long range roving operations in all Areas or bareboat operations in the Whitsunday or Hinchinbrook Areas
  • the activity of swimming-with-whales in the Cairns Area
  • fishing in the Conservation Park Zone in the Whitsunday Area
  • the activity of motorised water sports in specified locations in the Hinchinbrook Area