International visitor records smashed

If you’ve been hearing more foreign accents around the Sunshine Coast, it’s not a coincidence.

The latest International Visitor Survey (IVS) figures came out last week and showed that the Sunshine Coast attracted 6.3% overseas visitors in the year to the March 2018. We welcomed a record 307,000 visitors over that time, who contributed $231.6 million to the local economy.

Importantly, the Sunshine Coast’s 6.3% growth rate exceeded the Queensland average growth figure of 5.5%, and with the start of direct international flights to New Zealand at the start of the month, we can expect a bumper result from our Kiwi friends for the rest of the year.

Both the New Zealand and UK markets have continued to grow, but the standout growth market for the year has been Asia, up 24.8% in year to March 2018 compared to the previous year. Not coincidentally we have had our international market manager, Rachel Meyer, based in Singapore during that time and all indications are that we can expect even stronger growth from Asia in the year to come.

This is particularly good news given the major investment in the upgrade of Sunshine Coast Airport, because growth in Asian demand for our region is likely to encourage interest from airlines looking to fly direct into the Sunshine Coast once the new runway is completed in 2020.

Airlines will not only be interested in carrying travellers between Asia and the Sunshine Coast, there is the potential to grow exports of our best produce – think Mooloolaba prawns, Noosa spanner crab and our fine Hinterland cheeses.

Food is increasingly a major attraction for tourists, and it was a very impressive feat for Mooloolaba’s Walker Seafoods to be recently ranked number one amongst “Queensland’s most powerful foodies”, because every time their pristine seafood adorns the tables of fine dining restaurants across Asia it is a powerful advertisement for the Sunshine Coast.

The only downside to the latest IVS statistics was that international visitor expenditure didn’t keep pace with the Queensland average growth rate. That’s largely because of the region’s lack of new 5-star hotel accommodation, state-of-the-art conventional facilities, and upmarket attractions over the past decade.

So while we can be very happy about the number of visitors we have attracted to the Sunshine Coast, if we are to build on this interest, we are going to need to follow the example of the airport upgrade and attract major investment into development of new hotels and attractions.