Tailing out cattle is one thing for McKinlay’s mayor but as chairwoman of the Outback Queensland Tourism Association, Belinda Murphy has been able to round up a 15 per cent year-on-year increase in regional expenditure, and an increase in visitor numbers.
The latest National Visitor Survey shows outback Queensland outperformed the growth rates of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast for the period from June 2017 to June 2018.
According to the survey, visitor nights rose from 3514 to 4736, with an additional 1222 extra visitor nights spiking regional expenditure by 15 per cent.
As well as that good news, Belinda, shaking off the dust from bringing cattle in for a weekend cutting competition in Julia Creek, said the huge region, most of it in drought, had increased its length of stays and had shown that people will fly in and out on a package deal.
“We ran a summer campaign, supported by Tourism Events Queensland, packaged flights with specific destinations – Charleville, Longreach and Mount Isa,” Belinda said.
“We're just getting the results in at the moment and what I can say is overall, the campaign was really successful.
“The big winners this time were Longreach and Winton but overall there were 300 additional packages to operators, over 286 nights in total.”
It’s a result that will provide food for thought as OQTA members prepare to gather in Roma from November 1-4 for their annual symposium, field trips and gala dinner and awards night.
As Belinda said, while the grey nomad market criss-crossing the outback has been a wonderful staple, the trick is now to create opportunities for families who only have a week or 10 days to spare, to experience an outback holiday.
”It’s about getting people who wouldn't normally do this type of vacation to the outback to come in and spend money at local operators,” she said, explaining the hub concept that would give them a base to explore from.
“They might do the south west, and then realise the north and central west have 10-day trips that are different, and so decide to do that next year,” she said.
Belinda knows that one of outback tourism’s long-term challenges is connectivity and making a seamless transition between flying into somewhere such as Charleville, hiring a car there and being able to drop it off in Longreach after an adventure around some of the byways between to two places.
A new strategy is one of the announcements that will be made at the Roma symposium
”We want to disperse people around the outback and we want to even out the events,” Belinda added.
“The events are fantastic but they do create spikes.
“Between those spikes we want to be able to know we've got people travelling in the different parts of the outback and to do that we need to make sure our product's not centralised in one area.”
Part of that could involve all the airlines that service western Queensland – this year the package deals were offered only by Qantas but Belinda said Rex, which serviced routes between Cairns and Mount Isa, and Townsville and Winton, would be great to offer as well.
She acknowledged the current issue surrounding the cost of airline travel for people living in western Queensland but said it was a separate argument.
“I've had comments from a few different areas, of people saying, it's pretty bad that we can't fly one way out of our home town for what the whole package costs for people to come from the coast.
“I absolutely get it but from a tourism perspective there are packages online all the time, to Melbourne or Bali, and they're heavily discounted.”
The OQTA 2018 Outback Awards begin on Thursday, November 1 with a welcome evening at Roma’s Big Rig, the birthplace of Australia’s oil and gas industry.
Ticket sales for the event close on Thursday, October 25.