Tourists put $924m into Gladstone economy
MORE than 1.75 million Australian tourists flocked to the Southern Great Barrier Reef last year, representing an increase of 11.5% on the year prior.
A surge of 413,000 additional visitors from southern Queensland contributed to the increase, accordingly to a National Visitor survey by Tourism Research Australia released this week.
GAPDL chief executive Glenn Churchill said the increase in numbers showed how tourism could be a driving force in the central Queensland economy.
"Just from southern Queensland alone we have an increase of 20% in visitors," he said.
"Domestic tourism is big business and bought in $924.1 million to our region last year.
"People coming here make a huge financial contribution to our economy and help provide sustainable employment for locals."
Mr Churchill said the results reflected how hard the region had been working to promote tourism.
He said the survey also revealed an increase of 10.2% in holiday travel and 31.5% in the business sector.
"It's not just the work of the GAPDL and the tourism operators themselves, but also the influence of residents encouraging family and friends to come and visit and enjoy what we have to offer," he said.
"It's people being proud of where they live and enjoying what we have to offer that gives us such a great result."
Australian tourists spend an average of $497.05 per person in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, compared to $1162.04 in Whitsundays and $618 in Sunshine Coast.
Siblings drive 20 hours for reef diving
LAUREN Woolley and her brother Stuart drove 20 hours from Sydney just to get to Heron Island for the weekend.
"It's my birthday so mum is shouting us the trip. That makes it more affordable," Lauren said.
She drove via Bathurst to drop their dog off to a friend, and then stayed overnight in Goondiwindi - a small inland town nestled on the New South Wales and Queensland border.
"We used to drive between Melbourne and Sydney a lot, so we didn't think twice about a two-day trip, but maybe we should have. It was a long way!" she said.
The siblings visited Heron Island more than 20 years ago with their mum, who they met this time at the Gladstone ferry terminal.
"Mum flew up and she is catching the transfer from the airport right now," she told The Observer. "I don't remember much about coming here but mum absolutely loved it.
"When I said I wanted to get my scuba ticket, she booked us all in for the trip and organised the course."
They will spend three days on the island doing an intensive open-water scuba course.
For Stuart it was a dream come true.
"I love the Great Barrier Reef and have been to South Molle and a bunch of other islands, but I've always wanted to come back to Heron," he said.
"Hanging out with my family and getting to do my scuba course is going to be unreal!"