South Coast tourist surge boost for economy

Girls from St Mary's take part in a surfing lesson at City Beach. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Girls from St Mary's take part in a surfing lesson at City Beach. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

The number of tourists visiting the South Coast has surged over the past year, pouring more than $1.5 billion into the region's economy.

Destination NSW recently released figures that show the number of domestic visitors to the South Coast increased 5.7 per cent in the 12 months to March 2014. International visitors were up 13.7 per cent.

Expenditure by domestic visitors was also up 5.1 per cent to a whopping $1.4 billion, while international visitors spent $151 million, up 27.4 per cent.

South Coast Regional Tourism Organisation chair Brian Longbottom welcomed the figures while stressing the importance of visitors to the region.

"Visitation is what boosts your economy ... increased visitation means increased expenditure throughout the South Coast," Mr Longbottom said.

"That filters through to all businesses. The South Coast has a quite significant tourism industry and it's highlighted by the increased figures."

Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh said many people didn't understand the power of the "visitor economy".

"It is so crucial to jobs growth in that a lot of the positions are relatively unskilled," Mr Sleigh said.

"So they're perfect for youth and also perfect for people who are retraining after no longer being able to get work in the manufacturing industry."

Mr Sleigh said it was about more than just hotel stays or tickets to attractions.

"It's also about the people who call into the cafe, it's about the people who get their hair cut while they're here.

"There's no business in Wollongong, I believe, isn't genuinely affected by the increase in visitor numbers.

"It's the whole economy, it's the newsagents, it's the petrol stations, you walk past a jeweller and see a ring you like, you buy a ring. It's absolutely everyone."

Wollongong beaches surf wave of success

Many of the novice board riders who turn up at Pines Surfing Academy come from Campbelltown and other areas in western Sydney with direct road links to Wollongong.

Co-owner Vaya Phrachanh said about 30 per cent of people who came to North Wollongong Beach for surfing lessons were from out of the area.

But he said living away from the beach wasn't a disadvantage when it came to learning to surf.

"We've been tested a few times where we think 'OK, we've got a guy who lives near the beach, he's going to know a bit more than someone who comes from Campbelltown'," Mr Phrachanh said.

"Then what happens is the person from Campbelltown is more co-ordinated and goes better than the people who live locally. You just can't pick it.

"That's why instead of teaching everyone as one big group, we try and teach individuals because everyone learns differently."

Mr Phrachanh said while a few overseas visitors came for surf lessons, most tourists were day trippers from western Sydney.

"We do get a lot from Campbelltown and out that way, but most people, especially in the surf industry, want to hit the better known places like Bondi Beach, Manly, places like that," he said.

Also, for the western Sydney market, the beaches in the Illawarra were often easier to get to than those in Sydney.

"Instead of spending more than 45 minutes to get to the beach and sitting in traffic, they come down here to an uncrowded beach and uncrowded waves," Mr Phrachanh said.

"Also in Campbelltown, they have this thing called the summer bus and they get a free ride from Campbelltown down to here.

"They've been doing that for the last few years and that helps us out a fair bit."

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