You’ve got to love the endless optimism of the Gold Coast whatever you think of it as a holiday destination. All that sun, sand, surf, traffic and high-rise – suits some, alienates others.

Yet Gold Coasters don’t care. They keep talking the place up, spruiking its benefits, extolling its virtues – selling us holidays, good times and real estate , ideally all three.

Of course all this self-promotion is self-serving.

These are people who have made their fortune in the city built on sand, now Australia’s 6th biggest metropolis.

But there’s no question locals genuinely also love “The Goldy” and reckon everyone else should too.

You know, beautiful one day, perfect the next.

Lately, however, these claims have started sounding a little hollow.

The glitter strip has been enduring hard economic times – unemployment is up, property prices are down – while crime is very much in the news with a 60 Minutes report on the subject causing much local outrage.

But like Gold Coast criminal lawyer Bill Potts told “As someone once said, it’s a sunny place for shady people.”

What can’t be argued is that the Gold Coast is experiencing growing pains –something of an identity crisis that is flowing through to tourism, its major industry.

While some operators such as the Mantra Group, which has 22 properties on the Gold Coast, claim to be performing strongly, the majority of hoteliers are not.

The latest accommodation statistics from STR Global show that, so far, 2011 has been a bad year for most.

Hotel occupancy rates for the year to the end of November are down 6.1% to 65.4%, and revenue per available room has fallen 3.1% to $97.44.

Meanwhile, more tourists are visiting the Gold Coast but spending less.

According to Tourism Research Australia (TRA) there were 11.4m visitors to the Gold Coast in the year to June 2011.

That is 16 per cent up on the 9.8 million visitors during the previous 12 months. Great news, right?

Not really because the reality is that these extra visitors were day trippers packing their lunch and heading down from Brisbane.

Combined with a general trend toward frugality, this meant that total visitor spend on the Gold Coast actually dropped by $500 million – from $4.6 billion to $4.1 billion – over that period.

This represents a decrease in visitor yield – someone no-one in the tourism industry wants.

It also suggests a down-market shift in the visitor mix, although there are exceptions with Bob East from the Mantra Group saying its five-star properties are performing spectacularly well.

“Pepper’s Broadbeach is trading its head off with a $350 average room rate,” he says.

Mr East adding that the new or renovated Gold Coast properties are outperforming the market.

“The good product has done really well, there’s been a step change. It’s the older buildings that have had no spike.”

Some parts of the Gold Coast are doing much better than others, highlighting the increasingly fragmented nature of the market.

He says Broadbeach is the standout performer across the Mantra portfolio with 80 per cent occupancy.

Surfer’s Paradise is at 77 per cent but properties on what Mr East calls “the fringes” are down around 63 per cent.

When presented with the proposition that the Gold Coast is having an identity crisis Mr East concedes that while there may be growing pains the city’s tourism marketing is back on track after the “Very GC” campaign met with a (euphemistically) mixed reaction.

“We shouldn’t be promoting the Gold Coast on sophistication – it is what it is,” he says.

And that, according to Ben Pole, Communications Director of Gold Coast Tourism, is nothing more complicated than a place where people go to have a good time.

Mr Pole says “Famous For Fun”, the Gold Coast’s current positioning statement, is here to stay although there will be shift away from price and product-based marketing to campaigns that highlight the region’s diversity.

“The next five years will be a defining period for the Gold Coast,” he says. “It’s a tourism town that has grown into Australia’s sixth largest city and is going through a period of maturing and finding its feet.”


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