Wildcat Mackay Hailed Australia’s Best New Tourism Business!

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The saying “from little things big things grow” rings true for Mackay entrepreneurs Asher and Julie Telford, whose fledgling company, ‘Wildcat Mackay’, has just been announced Australia’s best new tourism business.

Accepting the Gold award at the 2022 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards, hosted by Sydney’s Dolton House – Darling Island, on Saturday night, Julie Telford said for a business launched at the height of the pandemic, Wildcat had not only met, but exceeded expectations, virtually against all odds.

“To say the cards were stacked against us would be an understatement, so to be recognised as Australia’s best new tourism business is testament to the innovation and tenacity involved, and proof of our ability to design and develop new tourism experiences that
people want,” she said.

“We put everything we had into this – emotionally, physically, financially – but it was a calculated risk that paid off; we promise our customers the experience of a lifetime, and awards like this confirm that’s what we deliver.”

Wildcat Mackay takes tourists to previously inaccessible Great Barrier Reef islands off the Mackay coast, on a one-of-a-kind, purpose-built vessel, custom-designed from extensive research. Scoping out a coastline with a reputation for shallow approaches and steep seas, Asher
Telford quickly discovered there was a reason not many operators had offered day trips. “But after completing significant data analysis and aerial surveillance we knew we’d found paradise and were determined to showcase it,” he said.

“Working with a team of leading naval architects, we were able to come up with a hull design specifically suited to the waters where we wanted to operate, with features like reverse bows, angled surfaces, easy-access fore and aft electric stairs, and a 360-degree rooftop viewing platform, that are every bit as practical as they are striking.

“The result is a state-of-the-art spacious boat, that’s comfortable yet fast, fuel efficient, and with important attributes like wheelchair access and lock-in points, plus solar-powered cool rooms and bar.”

With the design phase complete, Wildcat Mackay was ‘shovel-ready’ when Covid-19 hit. Happily, the Queensland Government’s Growing Tourism Infrastructure Grant opened applications for projects just such as this, that would strengthen Queensland’s tourism industry and deliver economic benefits to the state.

A successful recipient of partial funding from the grant, Wildcat was proudly built in Queensland, using local labour and supplies.

Despite the impacts of global Covid-related supply chain difficulties and price hikes, Wildcat Mackay was officially launched on December 1, 2021, and since this date has offered daily tours to either Scawfell, Cockermouth, Brampton or Keswick islands, with the location handpicked to suit the tides and weather of the day.

Tours depart the Mackay Marina at 9:30am, returning at 4:30pm and include snorkelling, paddleboarding, beachcombing and informative eco-history commentary, as well as morning and afternoon tea and lunch, with drinks from the licensed bar. Now entering its second year of operation the business has already expanded to include weekend sunset cruises around the Mackay Harbour, as well as offering immersive learning tours, curriculum-linked school excursions, school-age Coxswain training and private charters.

Employing eight local staff, the business has achieved the highest level of ECO accreditation, is a Climate Action Leader, and has received five-star reviews across Google and Trip Advisor.

Wildcat Mackay was awarded the 2021 Certificate of Excellence by Trip Advisor and in November 2022 won Gold for New Tourism Business at the Queensland Tourism Awards. Its sister company, Red Cat Adventures, is based in Airlie Beach, and was last year inducted into Queensland Tourism’s Hall of Fame, after winning best Major Tour and Transport Operator and Best Adventure Tourism Operator for three consecutive years.
Mackay Isaac Tourism Chief Executive Officer, Al Grundy, said whatever the outcome had been at Saturday’s awards, “in our eyes Wildcat were already winners as the trips they provide exploring the islands and reefs off the Mackay coast are world class”.

“The support for our region from Asher and Julie Telford is helping to establish Mackay as a jumping off point to visit the islands of the Great Barrier Reef – so go get ‘em Jules, Ash and the Wildcat team, and thank you,” he said. Julie Telford said Saturday’s national award was a whole-of-region success and she thanked not just the company’s staff but also Mackay Isaac Tourism, Mackay City Council and the local Mackay community for their support.
Asher Telford said any hardships endured along the way had been more than worthwhile for the honour of participating in Mackay’s tourism scene and promoting a simply stunning backyard.

“From the design concept to the reality, we’ve been able to introduce a vessel that’s extremely fit for purpose and performs incredibly in waters that have broken others in the past,” he said. “The result is what I see when guests make landfall on a beach where the tidal range has
washed away all footprints from the day before – it’s pure pleasure. “We are showcasing the Mackay region in a way that didn’t exist previously, and that’s what this is all about.”

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