Tourism season a winner
IT takes ages to find a parking spot in Macrossan St, squeeze into a restaurant without a booking, or to even buy a cup of coffee. Tourist season - and this year’s, by most accounts, is a ripper.
Service providers throughout the region are smiling as tourists arrive in droves, helping ease the pain of a bunch of lean years for the industry. Even retailers are thinking life isn’t so bad lately.
Commenting after a conference of tourism professionals, TPDD business development executive Tara Bennett said: ‘‘Ideal weather for our region coupled with an icy winter down south have supported a busy tourist season. The domestic market has continued to improve and the rebound of the UK and North American markets are adding to consistently strong visitor numbers. Feedback from last week’s New Zealand trade show was that Port Douglas is the destination of choice at present. The good times are set to continue with healthy forward bookings through til November.’’
Not being able to find a park on the street, said PD chamber of Commerce president Phoebe Kitto, was a sure sign the town is busy.
‘‘I have no figures to back me up but anecdotally the season been very positive, with restaurants and accommodation houses reporting a strong season and more people in town with money in their pockets to spend.
There is a feeling of optimism about town which is fantastic, and although there is now a slight dip in numbers everyone is expecting a strong September/October holiday season. Hopefully we will see the flow on effect of a strong season with business and holiday home owners in a position to spend money on refurbishing and upgrading their properties and businesses.’’
Quicksilver managing director Tony Baker said the group’s August numbers were the best since 2008-09 and July’s were the best in three years. Much of the strength had come from a resurgence in domestic visitors, backed up by good growth in the traditional UK, US and NZ markets, along with continuing growth in the China market. He’d heard from other businesses that conditions this year had been much improved than the recent past. ‘‘Business this quarter has certainly been better,’’ he said.
Interestingly, beside the renewed strength in the ‘‘traditional’’ Western markets, there was discernible growth in the Chinese Free Independent Traveller (FIT) segment.
These Chinese, often family groups containing at least one English speaker, are experienced travellers who avoid tour groups and prefer to travel under their own steam. These visitors are much more likely to bypass Cairns and seek out the attractions of the Port Douglas area.
Bel Cibo owner Andy Gray said the restaurant -- now in its fourth year -was having its best August yet. Mr Gray thought the Cairns Challenge and the solar eclipse along with a lower dollar were behind the region’s higher profile lately.
‘‘ We’re very happy with how things are going and I’d be surprised if anybody else said anything different. The streets seem to be busy and people are spending a little bit in all the shops, which has got to be good for everyone.’’
While fully booked hotels and resorts, reef boats, and 4wd tour operators are testament to the rush this year, there have been some twists in tourist behaviour patterns. The most pronounced trend is towards day visitation to Cape Tribulation - explaining the longer queues lately at the Daintree ferry.
But even here operators have been cheered somewhat in contrast to the experience of the recent past.
Jungle Surfing boss Sheena Walshaw said it had been a pretty good school holiday period and this year the shoulder season was better than last year’s. She said anecdotal reports were that many other businesses in the Daintree had enjoyed their best school holidays, and ‘‘the ferry across the Daintree has been incredibly busy.’’
Overall, she said, ‘‘we have had a really good season, but I don’t think it means our fortunes have suddenly changed for the good’’. Ms Walshaw pointed to particular factors this year that included a spell of perfect weather. She said day trip visitation had been noticably strong.
BOTTOMS UP: Andy Gray of Bel Cibo celebrates a buoyant tourist season