Wollongong needs to focus more on its "foreshore economy", according to new Destination Wollongong chairman Matt Davidson.
Mr Davidson said the region was missing out on employment opportunities and increased visitor spending by having residences and car parking along Cliff Road and Harbour Street rather than tourist-friendly places.
"We don't have that esplanade feel," Mr Davidson said.
"At the moment, you can't buy a newspaper on the beach.
"Lots of different competitive locations have a lot more retail or commercial opportunities right there where the visitors are.
"Visitors want to walk along and see cafes, restaurants and bars and things to do - things to spend their money on."
Mr Davidson doesn't want Wollongong to become the Gold Coast but believed some low-rise tourist-friendly businesses would be a plus.
It will be the second stint as chairman of the tourism body for Mr Davidson, who last held the position from 2009 to 2012.
Despite the lack of seaside places for tourists, Mr Davidson said the region was "punching above our weight".
"I think IRIS stats and Destination NSW stats show $730 million being spent in the Illawarra [annually]," he said. "There is $2 million a day spent by visitors. That's substantial and I don't think a lot of people know that."
The next step was to introduce more reasons to visit.
"Attractions are the reasons people leave where they live and go to a place," Mr Davidson said.
"We need more reasons to go and we're very interested in trying to increase the product, in building the list of things so people can say, 'I want to go to the Illawarra because there's all these things I want to do'."