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.

More information can be found on the changes to permit processes and changes to the Environmental Management Charge webpages.

What this means for special tourism permission permit holders

When an application to continue a special tourism permission is received during or after the above exemption period, those 1.5 years will be removed from reasonable use assessment of that application. The decision maker can, however, consider days used during that time if they assist the permit holder in meeting the reasonable use requirements.

Example 1

Tom holds a 5-year permit for a special tourism permission (STP) for a vessel program with an expiry date of 31 October 2021. On 29 October 2021 Tom submits a continuation application for the permit. The reasonable use levels would usually be calculated at 50 days X the permit term (5 years), meaning Tom would need to demonstrate a minimum of 250 days use.

Tom’s actual permit use over the full 5 year permit term (including 60 days of use during the exemption period) was only 217 days (insufficient for meeting reasonable use requirements over the 5-year permit).

However, with the above 1.5 year exemption period (1 March 2020–30 September 2021) not being included in the reasonable use assessments, Tom’s reasonable use calculations would change to be 50 days X 3.5 years (of the 5-year permit term), meaning only 175 days of use needs to be demonstrated.

Tom’s actual permit use over the 3.5 year period outside of the 1.5 year exemption period is a total of 190 days, therefore Tom has met his reasonable use requirement.

Example 1 Assessment Process:
Permit term5 years (31 Oct 2016 – 31 Oct 2021)
Required level of minimum use5 years x 50 days = 250 days
Level of use at time of application to continue217 days
Reasonable use met?No short by 33 days
Revised Latency requirements with suspension of reasonable use latency provision March 2020 – 30 September 2021 (1.5 years exemption period)
Adjusted required level of use

5 years - 1.5 years = 3.5 years

3.5 years x 50 days = 175 days of use required

Adjusted level of use  outside of the 1 Mar 2020 – 30 Sept 2021190
Reasonable use met?YES (175 days needed, 190 days used, reasonable use met with an additional 15 days)

Example 2

Daisy holds a 10-year permit for a Special Tourism Permission (STP) for a vessel program with an expiry date of 31 October 2021. On 29 October 2021 Daisy submits a continuation application for the permit.

The reasonable use levels would usually be calculated at 50 days X the permit term (10 years), meaning Daisy would need to demonstrate a minimum of 500 days use.

Daisy’s actual permit use over the full 10 year period term was 430 days (insufficient for meeting reasonable use requirements over the 10-year permit).  Daisy operated for 30 days during the exclusion period.

However, with the above 1.5 year exemption period (1 March 2020–30 September 2021) not being included in the reasonable use assessments, Daisy’s reasonable use calculations would change to be 50 days X 8.5 years (of the 10-year permit term), meaning only 425 days of use needs to be demonstrated.

Daisy’s actual permit use over the 8.5 years outside of the 1.5 year exemption period is a total of 400 days, meaning she has still not yet met her minimum level of reasonable use of 425 days. However, as Daisy operated 30 days during the exemption period, this can be counted in the reasonable use assessment, making Daisy’s total use 430 days and Daisy is now able to meet her reasonable use requirements.

Example 2 Assessment Process:
Permit Term10 years (31 Oct 2011 – 31 Oct 2021)
Required level of minimum use10 years x 50 days = 500 days
Level of use at time of application to continue430 days
Reasonable use met?NO - short by 70 days
Revised Latency requirements with suspension of reasonable use latency provision March 2020 – 30 September 2021 (1.5 years exemption period)
Adjusted required level of use

10 years - 1.5 years = 8.5 years

8.5 years x 50 days = 425 days of use required

Adjusted level of use outside of the 1 Mar 2020 – 30 Sept 2021400 days
Reasonable use met?NO - short by 25 days
Inclusion of days of operations during exemption period30 days
Reasonable use met?YES (425 days needed, 400 days used outside of the exemption period plus 30 days during the exemption period, thus reasonable use met with an additional +5 days)

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