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Special Tourism Permissions

Important information: changes to special tourism permissions - COVID-19. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Board has 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 until 30 June 2023 (previously 30 Sept 2022).


Visitation data from the “exemption period” (1 March 2020 to 30 June 2023) 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.

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 dates 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.

It is still very important that permission holders continue to lodge quarterly tourism visitation data through the EMC Online portal – this is the data that calculates use against your special permission.

Permit holders can check their reasonable use status by logging on to Permits Online select permits on the right-hand side and then select “check reasonable use”.


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
Aerial island photo - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Created Tue, 2022-08-23 08:21
Updated 30 Sep 2022
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