Tourism sea­son a win­ner

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Shane Nichols

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.

Pic­ture: SHANE NICHOLS

BOT­TOMS UP: Andy Gray of Bel Cibo cel­e­brates a buoy­ant tourist sea­son

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