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Visitor numbers hit record levels in 2022 but tourism bosses urge against complacency

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The Sunshine Coast has had a record-breaking number of tourist visits, bringing with them more than $5 billion in expenditure to the region.

The statistics, released last month, show almost 4.21 million visitors spent a total of 14.8 million nights on the Coast in 2022. This was an increase on the 4.05 million visitors in 2019, the year before the Covid pandemic began affecting numbers.

These overnight visitors brought in more than $4.26 billion for the region, averaging $1012 per trip, which was up from $678 in 2019. The average expenditure per trip per night was $288.

Related story: ‘Find your sunshine’: winter tourism campaign heats up

Day trips also contributed 5.63 million visitors and $650 million to the region, bringing the total traveller expenditure in the region to more than $5 billion last year.

The statistics were revealed in the National Visitation Survey, which is compiled by the federal government-run Tourism Research Australia.

Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve.

Noosa – which was also included in the figures for the Sunshine Coast – recorded significant gains across all measures, including a record $1.6 billion spend by overnight visitors. This was more than 60 per cent higher than the previous year.

Interstate visitors spent a record $908 million (from $433 million), and visitors from Queensland spent $689 million (from $530 million).

Tourism Noosa Acting CEO Susan Ewington said strong gains from the overnight visitor market, particularly interstate travellers who returned after the post-Covid reopening of state borders, contributed to the results.

Earlier this month, she attended the Australian Tourism Exchange, which is the nation’s largest annual tourism business-to-business event to communicate destination updates, strengthen relationships and develop forward business.

“It was really great to see strong demand and interest in Noosa from our key markets including the UK, USA and Northern Europe,” she said.

“It is very clear that these markets are travelling again, and Noosa is very much a desirable destination to visit.”

The Noosa River.

Ms Ewington said Tourism Noosa focused its marketing on overnight travellers as they spend more in local businesses than day-trippers.

In total, the Noosa region attracted 2 million visitors in 2022, including domestic overnight visitors and day-trippers, for a record $1.7 billion.

Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel said the record numbers were positive for the whole region.

“Our constant message is that ‘tourism is everyone’s business’ on the Sunshine Coast,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you are not directly involved in the tourism business, all of the community benefits through income to businesses and jobs.”

Mooloolaba Beach.

But Mr Stoeckel said the tourism industry was still in a post-Covid flux and continued focus on attracting visitors was necessary.

“While the 2022 figures were very impressive, they have to be seen in the context of subdued outbound travel by Australians,” he said.

“That has changed in 2023, so it is important that we are able to compete even more favourably by being able to offer even more attractive reasons to visit the Sunshine Coast.

“We definitely need new accommodation and it will be encouraging to have the new Essence Resort in Peregian open in July.

Related story: In the running to be state’s top tourism town

“Research reports have identified we need 10 to 12 new branded hotels to meet current demand, and also prepare us for hosting events in the 2032 Olympics.

“The Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites has had a very positive impact since it opened in Maroochydore last year, and we are hoping for progress on the two major Mooloolaba hotels that have been approved.

“Revitalisation of product is important, and already we are seeing impressive upgrades of major tourism attractions such as Amaze World and Maleny Botanic Gardens, while The Wharf goes from strength to strength with its restaurant and retail offerings.”

Amaze World at Tanawha.

Mr Stoeckel noted that the most encouraging aspect of the 2022 figures was having record levels of interstate travel even before Bonza began operations.

He said numbers so far in 2023 have been strong, particularly over the Easter period.

“Most operators across the region enjoyed a successful Easter holiday season, with occupancies for hotels averaging between 75 and 85 per cent,” he said.

“The Sunshine Coast Airport experienced one of its busiest fortnights on record, with the addition of Bonza services creating new market streams to the Sunshine Coast.

“Bonza estimated they brought an additional 5049 visitors to the Sunshine Coast in the first two weeks, and on average Bonza flights to the Sunshine Coast were running at 94 per cent capacity. This not only boosted visitor numbers over Easter, it exposed the Sunshine Coast to many new travellers and we are confident they will return for more in the future.”

Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Matt Stoeckel, Sunshine Coast Airport CEO Andrew Brodie and Tourism Noosa acting CEO Susan Ewington welcome Bonza to its new Sunshine Coast home.

Mr Stoeckel said the industry had learnt some lessons from the past three years with the effects of the Covid pandemic.

“The tourism sector has certainly learnt to adapt over the last few years, as has Visit Sunshine Coast,” he said.

“It has helped us refine our brand and messaging to be more appealing to potential travellers and this has helped the destination to be recognised in the top three ‘world’s most loved destinations’ for the last two years running. That’s fantastic recognition to the destination for getting things right when it mattered.

“It’s a time to be confident, but not complacent, which is why we launched our new SHINE training program to help Sunshine Coast tourism businesses excel in the new travel environment and stay ahead of competitors.

“We can’t sit back and just assume our natural assets will ensure traveller numbers continue to grow. We have to be really innovative to attract events, conferences, weddings, families and couples to the Sunshine Coast at a time when there is so much competition in the marketplace.

“But we have fantastic operators, one of the best tourism environments and ever-increasing direct flights into the region, so we are very positive about the future.”

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