Tourism hot spots look to future
SOUTHEAST Queensland is on the cusp of a tourism makeover that will entice more visitors to drop in but we have to manage it properly to stay on the map.
Brisbane could become one of the world's top tourism destinations as industry leaders eye off the River City's untapped jewels.
While the state capital has undergone a major personality transplant in recent years, it still languishes at an unflattering 154th place in the latest Euromonitor International's ranking of tourism cities.
However, Brisbane Marketing chief executive Brett Fraser says the city could enter the top ranks within 25 years by taking better advantage of Moreton Bay's spectacular islands. High-speed ferries would transport tourists direct from Brisbane's CBD to the bay in less than an hour, in a move to make the islands more accessible to visitors.
It's a view shared by Tourism and Events Queensland chairman Brett Godfrey and Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind.
Fraser says Moreton Bay has long been a sleeping giant of Queensland tourism.
"With the river and bay islands, we're underplaying ourselves," he says. "We have stunning bay islands that very few people get to experience.
"If we can link the islands to the CBD so people can go straight from their hotels to the bay without having to transition out to the existing ferry terminals (Cleveland or Port of Brisbane), the time to connect will be far less.
"The experience would start as soon as you hop on the boat in the CBD."
While Moreton and North Stradbroke Island are well known, there are other islands in the bay that receive virtually no visitors.
Fraser says future tourism would not be about overdeveloping those fragile environments but opening them up to visitors.
Tourism leaders are already in talks with marine transport companies and investors about bringing the plan to reality.
Fraser says he is convinced that sort of opportunity would help Brisbane rank among the world's top 100 tourism cities.
"We need additional product and experience, and that would be a great addition," he says.
Based on visitor numbers, Brisbane trails US destinations such as Boston (139th) and Phoenix (142nd), but Fraser compares the city to Austria's Vienna, a destination inside the top 100 without beaches or islands but bursting with cultural attractions.
Preventing the Gold Coast from becoming another Bali looms as one of the keys to the city's tourism future while theme parks of tomorrow will focus more on virtual reality, according to the woman who has just taken over as CEO of the region's top industry body.
Annaliese Battista, the head of Destination Gold Coast, says responsible development of the city's foreshore was vital over the coming years. She says the Gold Coast's future success lies in playing to its strengths, but not overplaying its hand.
"I think at the moment they have the balance just right on the beachfronts," she says.
"I've just come from Perth where there is no development on the beachfront because the locals don't want it.
"The beaches here are pristine and I think they've done a wonderful job in preserving the beaches, while still allowing some exciting tourism development. I don't think the Gold Coast will, or should, ever be like Kuta Beach in Bali."
While increased airline networks could deliver millions more international tourists to the city, Battista says the Gold Coast would still be a favourite for Aussie travellers, with beaches and theme parks still major attractions for visitors.
"At the moment, it's about an 80/20 split between domestic and international tourists," she says.
"You will still see Australians coming here, maybe for shorter durations as people become more time poor but they might come here four or five times a year on short stays or day trips."
She says theme parks of the future may focus more on virtual reality or interactive attractions, while sound and light-type attractions favoured in Asia and parts of the Middle East could also be effective, but there would always be demand for a good old-fashioned rollercoaster.
Dreamworld is already building a "flying theatre" virtual reality ride which is expected to open in the Christmas holidays.
"The M1 is the most pressing issue that needs to be resolved right now," she says. "Even better, it would be great to see an M2. It would improve accessibility so much."
The Garden City could become the Garden Capital in a bold bid to ignite southern Queensland's tourism potential.
Plans for a spectacular public garden on the outskirts of Toowoomba, inspired by the world-famous Butchart Gardens in Canada, have been around for more than a decade, but State Government funding for a fact-finding mission this year has created fresh hope for the project.
Southern Queensland Country CEO Mary-Clare Power believes the project is the perfect catalyst to transform the region's tourism industry over the next 25 years.
"Toowoomba is already known as the Garden City, so this would be a natural extension of that, but on a much larger scale," she says.
"It would provide a major tourist attraction for the whole region, which could then see a whole lot of other things spring off from that.
"If we're giving people another really compelling reason to come here you will find extra attractions and more accommodation, particularly four and five-star offerings, will follow."
By 2043, Toowoomba's Wellcamp Airport could be home to multiple international flights, potentially exposing the region to vastly increased numbers of international visitors.
Last year, the region, which stretches from the outskirts of Ipswich and the Gold Coast down to the NSW border, attracted just 48,000 international visitors, but Power believes that figure should at least double by 2043 if the gardens become a reality.
She says a top conference centre would further boost the region's reputation and visitor numbers.
"Business tourism is such a big space," she says. "It fills a void we have at the moment because we have a lot of weekend visitors and day-trippers, but to get more people staying here mid-week is important. That would help not only Toowoomba, but also flow on to the rest of the region.
"Conference attendees might stay on for the weekend or take in team-building exercises such as visits to the wineries of Stanthorpe, for example."
The gardens and conference centre would mean less reliance for tourism on the iconic Carnival of Flowers, which by 2043 will be approaching its centenary.
Power says it was hard to see what changes might be in store for the event, which has become one of Australia's best festivals.
"At its heart, people come to look at the flowers," she says. "It's good for the soul and, hopefully, that is something that doesn't change."
It would become Australia's most exclusive holiday playground as tourism leaders vow less is more when it comes to the Sunshine Coast region's future.
Visit Sunshine Coast chief executive Simon Latchford says it should strive to be the "Bentley or Rolls-Royce" of Australian tourism, with an abundance of five- and six-star hotels aimed at attracting big spenders.
"You look at statistics and projections, but growth for growth's sake is a bad strategy," he says. "Noosa is already the Hamptons of Australia, and we can take that further.
"There should always be some room for cheap and cheerful, but by and large, we should be aiming high-end.
"We would rather have 5000 visitors a day each spending $2000 than thousands more spending far less."
Latchford says the region's airport would be better served targeting premium airlines rather than budget carriers, while future hotel developments should have a focus on quality rather than quantity.
Development and growth across the globe in the next 25 years would place pressure on natural resources, and Mr Latchford says that's why it is imperative that the Sunshine Coast's natural assets are protected.
"Natural attractions are going to become more valuable, so it's important we don't bugger them up," he says.
And after years of stunted growth under the uncertainty of changing local government structures, the Sunshine Coast is well-positioned to look to the future.
"While the councils amalgamated and then de-amalgamated, not much happened, so while the Gold Coast and other places raced ahead, it's actually a positive for us," he says. "We're able to look at what has and hasn't worked elsewhere and use that knowledge to our advantage."