Queensland Fails Tourism Moment of Truth

Gold Coast Sunrise April 2011
Gold Coast Sunrise 2011

The political thought police are back in action in Queensland – and the news is all bad for the state’s tourism industry, which needs honesty, not self-deception, in what is shaping as a pivotal period in its history. This story begins with Jetstar featuring a Lonely Planet description of Cairns shops “bursting with Ken Done clothes and stuffed koalas” while its esplanade lagoon is “an attempt to make up for the fact that waterfront Cairns doesn’t actually have a beach”.

Tourism Minister Jan Jarratt told AAP: “I do find it perplexing and I am pursuing a meeting with Jetstar to determine the company’s rationale in this approach”. The offending words have since been removed and the Queensland Government has censored what the online forums are almost uniformly calling the truth.

Meanwhile, Ken Done shirts and koalas are still being sold in Cairns while there’s no sign of a real beach ever materializing on its tropical shores. Jarratt may have appeased a few tourism operators but she has done nothing for the industry she represents.

And it is an industry in trouble. During 2010 – before the floods – the number of visitors to Queensland from the two biggest markets – Sydney and Melbourne – was the lowest on record. Overall interstate tourism was down 3% while international fell 2%.

In Jarratt’s home market of the Whitsundays, visitor numbers slumped 9%.

The entire state of Queensland is being impacted by long term trends – shorter breaks, international travel, a preference and ability to try something new, and – dare I say it – a head in the sand approach from some local operators.

To date, much of the political focus has been on Far North Queensland – where the industry was built to service mass tourism of decades past – but thousands of kilometers to the south, Gold Coast operators are also doing it tough.

And once again the weather is not to blame. There were literally thousands of apartments and rooms still for rent during the normally busy Easter school holiday period.

One basic reason is that Government – local and state – has allowed too much accommodation to be built in a 40-year building frenzy that the GFC brought to a crashing halt.

No way could all the apartments and hotels could ever be filled with tourists, there are simply too many of them.

An attendant reality is that the northern Gold Coast – from Broadbeach to Surfer’s Paradise – is a high-rise mess, massive towers dominate everything including the still beautiful beach, while the drive along the Gold Coast Highway, littered with half-baked buildings, hoardings and empty lots –  is depressing: no prettier than Sydney’s much-derided Parramatta Road.

Food on the Gold Coast is also expensive – more so than Sydney and Melbourne. Surf clubs want $30 for main meals with no table service, while even the local RSL clubs are charging like wounded bulls, and it’s difficult to feed the family for less than $100.

That’s the truth. Ugly as it is.

But the Gold Coast, like most of Queensland, is still a great place to visit. The southern beaches, from Currumbin to Coolangatta, remain largely uncluttered and beautiful. There’s a relaxed, coastal vibe you don’t get in the southern capitals and there is plenty for the kids to do.

Accommodation, thanks to the glut, is also fantastic value right now, to an extent counter-balancing the expensive food. All in all, a great place to spend a few days with the family.

I still like it, flaws and all, just don’t tell me the Gold Coast, and Queensland for that matter, is something it’s not.

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3 thoughts on “Queensland Fails Tourism Moment of Truth”

  1. The magic of Cairns is not the beaches on the mainland but rather the wonderful Great Barrier Reef that lays off its coastline. I have been lucky enough to dive some great sites around the world and can comfortably say that nothing comes close to rivalling Australia’s destinations. Enjoy Cairns for what it offers and the Queensland Gold Coast for some great beaches, lifestyle and annual events.

  2. Martin you have raised and highlighted several issues impacting Queensland tourism and in particular the Gold Coast and TNQ. I would like to comment on Gold Coast. The GC Council has to decide if it wants to be a tourism destination or a residential area providing workers for Brisbane. The current town planning laws do not support tourism. Examples – residents in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach do not want any noise after 9.30pm tourists want to keep celebrating and enjoying the nightlife. Holiday makers do not travel from Sydney or Melbourne to be met by traffic congestion worse than their home cities. GCC please decide if our region is a holiday destination or not.

    1. Good point Ken. I think the Gold Coast has an identity crisis, doesn’t know what it is, hasn’t for a few years – witness the ‘Very GC’ campaign featuring sophisticated images with no relationship to the reality of schoolies tearing it up post-exams. I think there is a very strong marketing case for the southern Gold Coast, from Currumbin to Coolangatta, to break away from the north with a slogan along the lines of “Gold Coast – The Way It Used To Be”….

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