Out­back tourism boom boosts res­i­dents’ spir­its

Western Times - - NEWS - Louise Shan­non

TOURIST and car­a­van parks in and around Charleville are hop­ing for in­creased tourism dur­ing the next year as peo­ple from around Aus­tralia choose to travel to drought-af­fected ar­eas in the hope of sup­port­ing and boost­ing the liveli­hoods of ru­ral towns.

The Evening Star Tourist Park owner Craig Ali­son said he had ex­pe­ri­enced his best sea­son yet, with num­bers “in­creas­ing ex­po­nen­tially”.

“It sure has been a good sea­son,” Mr Ali­son said.

He said im­proved in­no­va­tion at his park, in­clud­ing the for­ma­tion of a not-for-profit land­care group, stargaz­ing nights, school vis­its and en­sur­ing trav­ellers were in­volved in car­ing for the en­vi­ron­ment, helped spread the word about trav­el­ling to and stay­ing in the re­gion.

Mr Ali­son said “fluc­tu­a­tions are part of the game” but en­cour­aged tourism op­er­a­tors to “ride the waves” and em­brace new ideas and projects to at­tract trav­ellers.

“I have peo­ple spread­ing bi­o­log­i­cal cactus buds in re­gional Queens­land, through the land­care group, and next year they’ll come back and see how it went.”

Mr Ali­son, who was pre­sented with the South West NRM 2016 Mulga Awards tourism award for nat­u­ral re­source man­age­ment, has also worked in show­ing trav­ellers how mulga growth shapes south­west Queens­land land­scapes as a na­tive, weed and live­stock fod­der.

He said peo­ple stay­ing at his park, lo­cated out­side Charleville on the Adavale road, of­ten had their own knowl­edge to of­fer and he was al­ways keen for their feed­back in their ar­eas of ex­per­tise to help run his park and main­tain the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

“We’ve kept abreast of ex­pec­ta­tions through sur­veys, feed­back loops and by be­ing hum­ble and ask­ing peo­ple what their ex­pe­ri­ences in life are if they’ve had sim­i­lar chal­lenges and how they have met those chal­lenges,” Mr Ali­son said

“They might think, ‘I know a bit about this’ and they’ll call up a month later to fol­low up.”

He said he of­ten gave talks to campers about the Nat­u­ral Sci­ences Loop, in­spir­ing them to change their itin­er­ary and take in more of the re­gion, in­clud­ing Quilpie, Thar­go­min­dah and Cun­na­mulla.

By in­clud­ing peo­ple in car­ing for the area, such as with a 5km clean-up around his park, Mr Ali­son said trav­ellers felt a sense of in­clu­sion and own­er­ship, they took pho­tos, talked to their friends, and mo­ti­vated oth­ers to make the trip.

One group of van tourists cal­cu­lated the oc­cu­pants of each van spent about $280–$300 in one to two days in a town.

“I’m ex­cited for not only next year but for the next five years,” Mr Ali­son said.

“It’s hap­pen­ing now – peo­ple are com­ing out and ask­ing how can they con­trib­ute in this time of need and I say to them they’re ac­tu­ally do­ing it now.”

Jo Whit­ting­ton, owner of The Red Lizard Camp­ing Ground, 6km out­side Charleville, said this year’s high sea­son had been “busier than ever be­fore, which is good to see”.

Ms Whit­ting­ton said she thought more peo­ple trav­elled to Birdsville’s Big Red Bash and other re­gional events, which en­ticed con­voys of peo­ple to out­back Queens­land.

She said me­dia at­ten­tion en­cour­ag­ing fam­i­lies and trav­ellers to visit ru­ral ar­eas and sup­port towns strug­gling in the drought was work­ing.

“They’re def­i­nitely help­ing the town by com­ing through and do­ing a bit of shop­ping.

“You can tell by look­ing around Charleville that it’s pretty busy and when it’s busy, it’s been very busy.

“On the whole I think it’s been a pretty good sea­son for most.

“Some peo­ple get up­set about roos on the road, which can be a bit con­fronting, but I don’t think it’s putting peo­ple off.”

Peo­ple trav­el­ling dur­ing the drought were able to learn and un­der­stand more about what ru­ral ar­eas were ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, Ms Whit­ting­ton said.

“They want to talk to you about it. There’s some peo­ple who are shocked it’s gone on for seven or eight years like it has here.”

Peo­ple could be de­terred from trav­el­ling to Charleville at Christ­mas be­cause of the heat but “if they could man­age, it’s bet­ter than not com­ing at all”.

Cobb and Co Car­a­van Park owner John Moss­ley said fig­ures re­mained steady at his park th­ese hol­i­days and he was keen to pro­mote the area and en­cour­age more tourists to spend money in town.

“Ev­ery busi­ness in town should be aware of try­ing to keep peo­ple in town for a day or two longer as the ben­e­fits flow on to ev­ery­where,” he said.

Mr Moss­ley said each per­son who stayed in the area con­trib­uted on av­er­age $84 a day through fuel, shop­ping or a trip to the pub.

“Peo­ple are go­ing to go where they feel wel­come to stay and spend their money.”

He said some trav­ellers might shy away be­cause they were wor­ried there was not enough wa­ter in the area.

“But peo­ple un­der­stand when they’re here,” he said.

I’m ex­cited for not only next year but for the next five years.

— Craig Ali­son

PHOTO: CON­TRIB­UTED

OUT­BACK TOURISM: The Evening Star Tourist Park, at Charleville, has ex­pe­ri­enced its best tourism num­bers this sea­son.

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