General Manager, Tourism Whitsundays
You’ve been in the Whitsundays for just over 5 years, what career path took you there?
I started my career at Gladstone Area Promotion and Development Limited as a Marketing Assistant trainee, worked a few different roles during my time in the Gladstone Region ending as Corporate Projects and Events Coordinator, then I had a fantastic opportunity to join Tourism Queensland as an Executive Assistant. After finishing up with Tourism and Events Queensland in 2012 I did a short stint at Brisbane Marketing before accepting the position of Marketing Executive International for (then) Whitsundays Marketing and Development Limited.
The Whitsundays was hard hit by Cyclone Debbie in March 2017. How is the region recovering?
We have a resilient community here in the Whitsundays and the town has made some amazing progress in rebuilding post Cyclone Debbie. Tourist numbers are picking up, and the sentiment and mood among the operators and wider tourism industry is very positive and upbeat. The Whitsundays just took out the National Award for Excellence in Community Development and Service Delivery for its “Our Whitsunday: Our Utopia” campaign, which showcased the ability of local residents bouncing back in record time after the natural disaster.
Several new projects are in the planning or construction phase. What ones stand out?
2019 is shaping up to be an exciting and busy year for the Whitsundays tourism sector, especially in the accommodation space. We have the refurbishments of Daydream Island and Hayman Island being completed, which will be a major drawcard. On top of this, we have Elysian Retreat on Long Island set to come online. From a sightseeing perspective, snorkelers and divers will also be treated to an underwater wonderland with the introduction of Queensland’s first underwater art at Langford Reef, near Hayman Island. We are really looking forward to this!
Air access to the region is seen by many as critical. What new or additional services have been added or are planned?
We are lucky enough in the Whitsundays to have two key airports with Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Coast. Hamilton Island continues to maintain direct flights from Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Cairns which is incredibly important to the destination. The Whitsunday Coast Airport is witnessing stellar growth, with 2018 marking the seventh consecutive year of passenger growth. The local tourism industry were very delighted to see the aviation sector respond to this demand, with Virgin Australia recently pledging to add extra flights to the mainland which is set to add 54,000 seats annually. While this is a huge win for the region, and a step in the right direction, we continue to advocate for an increase in domestic routes to the Whitsundays to cater for growing demand. The Whitsunday Coast Airport is readying itself for this growth with a major terminal expansion currently underway.
Events are critical to regional tourism. What are the Whitsundays major events and what is in the pipeline?
The Whitsundays is emerging as an events mecca. From sailing to music, to endurance races and festivals; the Whitsundays has it all. The Whitsundays events calendar is growing every year and the diversity of events means there is something for everyone. The Airlie Beach Festival of Music is fast becoming the state’s best boutique music festival and we look forward to continuing to grow this fantastic music event. A smaller event that started this year was the ‘Walk to the Lighthouse’ in Bowen, and while it was in its first year it saw around 3000 attendees from across Queensland and New South Wales. Airlie Beach Race Week and Hamilton Island Race Week continues to be incredibly popular events and a drawcard to sailing in the Whitsundays. And events such as Airlie Beach Running Festival, Hamilton Island Endurance Series and Run the Great Whitsunday Walk are popular dates on athletes’ calendars!
When talking with your members, what is the feedback about current the state of the visitor economy?
We have received some very encouraging feedback from our members around the state of the visitor economy. There is increased visitation stemming from the domestic market and the international market remains buoyant. Airlie Beach is a town that was once known as the jumping off point to the islands, is now a destination of its own right. With an array of experiences from on water to land, an abundance of dining options and home to two Chef’s Hatted Restaurants! We are also witnessing increased activity and interest in travellers heading to Bowen, in the north of the Whitsundays. With eight beautiful beaches, Bowen is brimming with potential, and it is great to see this being recognised by both international and domestic visitors. We also have an increase in dispersal across the region with more visitors exploring by road some of the historic towns of Proserpine and Collinsville.
What will the next 5-10 years be like for traditional distribution?
I don’t think anyone can say that the distribution system isn’t changing; it has to in order to keep up with the online world. I saw some interesting stats this morning on the over 60’s market and just how many are sourcing content for travel and experiences online and booking online… I think we are still a long way off the complete reduction of traditional distribution, however as people become more confident and the world continues to become smaller, it will be the innovative ones that come through…
What’s the next big thing for Tourism Whitsundays?
2018 is all about building upon our foundations – the big project for us this year is the redevelopment of Brand Whitsundays! We are also creating the new Destination Tourism Plan!
On a lighter note ….
With a young family, how do you stay in touch when away from home?
Facetime is absolutely brilliant, I use it every trip. The kids love it as I can show them where I am and what I am doing.
You’ve made a change from a large city to regional Australia, what’s the biggest differences?
The biggest difference in moving back to regional Queensland (I grew up in Agnes Water) was getting used to 5 minute commutes to work. It is absolute bliss!
When you arrive home from a week away what do you like doing?
- Cooking up a batch of green veges & boiled jacket potatoes for dinner
- Snuggling up on the couch with the kids and husband to watch a kids movie
- Heading out into the backyard to watch the sun set, with a glass of wine while the kids play!
When hitting the kitchen what is your hero dish(s)?
Anything Italian… I like to try and cook as good as my Nonna… my family request Cannelloni; Lasagne; and chilli, rocket pasta…
If you could wave a magic wand what one problem in Australia would you fix?
Increased funding for RTOs 😉
What is your personal number one online retailer for purchases?
To be honest I am a little ole fashioned and avoid online shopping! Without sounding bad, the number one thing I would purchase online would be wine from Naked Wines!
Favourite web site(s)?
tourismwhitsundays.com.au of course – or that might be the most visited site haha.
What is the one thing you always pack when travelling (apart from a phone charger)?
Tourism Whitsundays web site https://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au/
Tash Wheeler on LinkedIn
Image of Tash Wheeler supplied by Whitsunday Times