COME AND SEE: The council will look at more highway signage to direct traffic into Mary St and the region’s attractions.
COME AND SEE: The council will look at more highway signage to direct traffic into Mary St and the region’s attractions. Craig Warhurst

Watt pushes for tourism boost

THE Gympie region is missing out on millions of tourist dollars because it doesn't see tourism as one of its major industries, a former chairman of the Cooloola Regional Development Bureau has claimed.

Gympie Cooloola Tourism board member and former CRDB chair, Cr Jan Watt, said yesterday 2.4 million tourists spent almost $2 billion on the Sunshine Coast in 2010, a locality 30 minutes from the Mary Valley and less than an hour from Gympie.

For the same period, the Gympie region had 287,000 overnight visitors and the Fraser Coast 782,000.

Gympie's absence from any regional tourist organisation for the past four years hadn't helped, she said.

"Whilst I don't believe any Valley or Gympie resident wants to attract millions of people here, any prudent business person would acknowledge the benefits of increasing our market share of this very close and accessible source."

Cr Watt said it was high time Gympie's tourism industry was recognised for the economic driver it was, and was supported accordingly.

The council's $400,000-a-year economic development unit - established when the CRDB was disbanded post-amalgamation and the $309,000-a-year Gympie Cooloola Tourism was created - has been asked to revamp its research methods to include tourism as an industry sector "in itself", something previous business confidence surveys conducted here have not done.

A recent business confidence survey estimated there are about 4500 business in the Gympie region, of which no data exists as to how many are tourism related.

And 95% of the region's businesses did not even participate in the survey.

"In order to fully understand the impact tourism currently has on our economy (and could potentially have) we first need to understand its make-up," Cr Watt said.

"We can't plan for the future if we don't know where we are.

"Targeted research will provide information for strategic planning and will inform relevant investment in what could possibly be one of our three biggest industry sectors, the other two being agriculture and manufacturing; I think the outcomes may surprise many."

A recently released Queensland Tourism Industry Council report flagged changes to funding that will likely see all tourism funding go through RTOs. If Gympie is not a member of an RTO it will miss out again, Cr Watt said.

One of the first points of order of the new council, after the April elections, is expected to be a decision on which RTO Gympie should join - the multi-million dollar Sunshine Coast Destinations, which could cost about $100,000 a year to be part of, or Tourism Fraser Coast, which would cost less.

Mayor Ron Dyne said both organisations wanted Gympie on board, and while the cost of aligning with the Sunshine Coast scared a lot of people, it would no doubt offer more exposure.

"I would like to see Gympie Cooloola Tourism increase their membership (which currently stands at 125)," he said of ways to nurture tourism.

Kandanga, Goomeri and Gympie had also recently acquired RV Friendly Status and all three centres would soon have signage promoting that.

Entry statements were under construction for the region's western localities and were already completed for the Mary Valley, Rainbow Beach, Cooloola Coast and Tin Can Bay.

Cr Dyne said the council would also be happy to explore the option of more billboards on the Bruce Hwy directing some of the 20,000 vehicles that pass through Gympie each day into Mary St and the city's nearby attractions.

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