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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, some important management arrangements and conditions 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, over the permit term, you must achieve 'reasonable use' of the permission — this is using the permission on average for at least 50 days per year per vessel over the life of your permit term. Please Note: As part of the Reef Authority's response to COVID-19, latency requirements had an "exemption period" (1 March 2020 to 30 June 2023). These dates will be removed from the required use calculations.

The decision maker can, however, consider days used during that exemption period if they assist the permit holder in meeting the "reasonable use" requirements.

Provided the minimum requirements above have been achieved, and you also apply for your following permit before your current one expires, you will retain first option to continue your special permission.

Any special tourism permission not meeting the reasonable use requirement will usually become 'spare' and potentially available for re-allocation.

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 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 consider carefully any commitments and information included in the application and how this is presented to give yourself the best opportunity to succeed 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

As part of the Tourism Management Action Strategy, the managing agencies are reviewing and updating existing tourism management, including the Managing Tourism Permissions policy and related policies and procedures, to ensure contemporary management, reduce administrative burden and promote environmental outcomes.

The policy Managing Tourism Permissions to Operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (including Allocation, Latency and Tenure) includes:

Application, assessment, variation and transfer arrangements for tourism permissions the offer of first option on a further tourism permission for existing permission holders, with a requirement for reasonable use of special tourism permissions (that is, those that are 'capped') the requirement to commence operation of a permission within two years allocation of new or spare special tourism permissions through expressions of interest
the opportunity for 15-year permit terms for certified high-standard tourism operations.

Aerial island photo - Great Barrier Reef - Commonwealth of Australia (Reef Authority)
Updated 11 Sep 2023
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