Golden opportunity is no mirage
OPPORTUNOPPORTUNITIES occasionally come along that create a real ’light-bulb’ moment and a recent last minute offer to take the place of the Shadow Tourism Minister at Hamilton Island’s Qualia resort was certainly one.
Although it was easy to be impressed by the service, the food, the stunning facilities and setting, it was the remarkable parallels between Hamilton Island and Port Douglas that really struck home.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, it took developers Christopher Skase and Keith Williams - both men with vision - to identify the potential of the destinations, and to take a punt on them.the result? Two iconic resorts - the Sheraton Mirage in Port Douglas and Hamilton Island - built at huge expense, but which served as a catalyst to attract tourism and promote further development.
During their heyday in the ’80s and ’90s they hosted celebrities and international figures, drawn to the destinations’ ability to balance luxury facilities with a laidback village atmosphere.
But despite their previous successes, the tourism downturn hit both hard - a series of new owners brought different ideas but no real vision, while we atched the room standards drop and infrastructure decline over the next decade.
Then in 2003 along came wealthy agriculturalist and winemaker Bob Oatley, of sailing’s ’Wild Oats’ fame, who bought Hamilton Island at a bargain price with an exceptional investment and development program in mind.bob firmly believed that despite the burgeoning budget travel market, there was a niche for a high-end luxury resort - and came up with the concept of the six-star Qualia.
Since the opening of Qualia, Hamilton Island has seen the start of a new period of prosperity as the trickle-down effects benefit local business and tourism perators, and the atmosphere was absolutely booming.
In Port Douglas, the Sheraton Mirage was also picked up at a bargain price last year by Melbourne theatre magnate David Marriner.
Although Bob Oatley had to start from scratch in building the six-star Qualia, David is fortunate to have the existing Sheraton - and its reputation - as a starting point.
While David recognises the similarities between the two destinations, he told me this week that Hamilton Island still doesn’t have the “sophistication, charm and romance” of Port Douglas.
What he will bring to the table is the opportunity not only to refurbish, but also to create a new industry with the exposition centre and an amphitheatre, providing us with a snapshot of the Melbourne theatre culture and giving visitors another reason to travel to Port Douglas.
At the Federal level, meetings with Regional Development Minister Simon Crean and his advisors were constructive but it was made clear that the backing first needed to be there at a State level.
Now though, with the change of government, an opportunity exists that can’t be ignored - Port Douglas has been marking time for a long time, and this is the catalyst for change. If we can get council to commit to the lagoon and give a tick to the waterfront upgrade then here is our trifecta - the recovery will start.
I’ll be working very closely with the newly elected State Members, Federal Opposition Leader and the Premier to convert rhetoric into action - no more feasibility studies.