The number of tourists visiting the Illawarra and South Coast may have increased in the last 12 months, but the region’s peak tourism body believes there are still many “lost opportunities”.
Destination Wollongong general manager Mark Sleigh said the Illawarra was lucky to have a number of world class tourism operators, but areas like Flagstaff Hill or Lake Illawarra were missing out on tourist dollars.
He said many natural tourism landmarks had nothing but Mr Whippy vans and called for commercial operators to seriously consider the region for investment.
“It needs to be commercially driven, it can’t be about bringing your esky and sitting on the beach. A true tourism destination like a Queenstown or a Gold Coast, you’ve got your hand in your pocket the whole time spending more money,” Mr Sleigh said.
“So as we mature as a tourism destination we need to get more proactive at it.”
The National Visitor Survey released last December showed a first for the Illawarra South Coast area, with over 10 million domestic overnight visitors in the 12 months to September 2016, an increase of 5.4 per cent on the previous year.
Statistics from the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events Stuart Ayres’ office showed for the Illawarra alone, the region attracted 1,054,000 visitors in that time period, a rise of 0.4 per cent on the previous year.
Flagstaff Hill is a great example of tour buses pulling up there everyday of the week, and not be able to put your hand in your pocket and buy anything else but Mr whippy, that's a real disappointment and real missed opportunity for Wollongong.Mark Sleigh
Destination Wollongong chair Tania Brown said the numbers are proof to commercial operators that the Illawarra is an area which can be capitalized on, such as water-skiing or seaplane operators setting up on Lake Illawarra.
Meantime, Mr Sleigh said the opening of a cafe at the top of Mount Keira was an investment already paying off with people “re-engaging with the mountain”.
“It’s a catalyst for further development on the escarpment, it proves people want to be up there,” he said.
It comes as a discussion paper by University of Wollongong Professor Chris Gibson and University of Sydney Professor John Connell, published on TheConversation.com blog, details how regional areas are increasingly looking for iconic tourism drawcards – such as the Parkes Elvis Festival.
“A town like Parkes comes alive for one weekend, we want to be more sustainable than that and have things through out the year that target different demographics,” Ms Brown said.