The Sunshine Coast has started 2017 on a high, after outperforming the Australian and Queensland growth figures last year with a 13.5 per cent increase in domestic visitors to 3.25 million over a 12 month period.
With a stronger focus on events than ever before, Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford says the region’s events sector is going from strength to strength.
Three years ago the Sunshine Coast delivered around six events, while in 2016 alone the region delivered 65 significant events.
Latchford attributes much of the region’s success with events to Visit Sunsine Coast’s close relationship with Sunshine Coast Council.
“The reason we’re seeing so much movement in such a rapid period of time is that Sunshine Coast Council has always been and still continues to be extraordinary supporters of both tourism and events,” he says.
“Council has been absolutely fantastic in allowing us bid funding for the first time so we’ve actually been able to go out into the marketplace and compete effectively.
“That includes the ‘nicking’ of some capital city events, particularly Australian Event Awards, which has historically been in Sydney, we also took the Australian Cruise Conference.”
Looking to continue the region’s tourism and events success, Latchford suggests a partnership with Brisbane City is on the cards.
He says the two regions have the potential to work hand-in-hand to deliver successful business events and incentives.
“By working with a capital city, particularly given we’re so geographically close, to me is an absolute no-brainer. Together we will do much, much better.”
While the Sunshine Coast’s conference capacity may not be on par with what capital cities can offer, Latchford says the ability to host large conferences mightn’t be too far off.
“Clearly if we had to hold a 3000 person conference, other than a marquee situation, we can not offer what Melbourne and Sydney can.
“But watch this space…in five years we might be able to.”
Another boost for the region’s tourism and events sector, Sunshine Coast Council recently secured more than $180 million in government funding to assist with the $350 million expansion of the Sunshine Coast Airport.
The redevelopment, which includes a new runway and expansion of the existing terminal, is scheduled for completion in 2020.
“We will continue to grow and develop domestic services and we’re having a very good look at a Sunshine Coast – Cairns service, which would also open up Cairns and beyond, into Asia and other countries,” says Latchford.
Visit Sunshine Coast is launching a new campaign this month, based on the region’s five key offerings: beach culture, nature, food and produce, attractions and events.
Latchford says after years of promoting the region’s beach culture to the world, it’s now focussing on drawing attention to the food and produce offering.
One of the Sunshine Coast’s most popular events, the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, is returning this year and after a few uncertainties surrounding it, Latchford says it has evolved into something even better than before.
“Tourism Noosa and Noosa Council have done a fabulous job at resurrecting it and rejigging it into something far more current and relevant. We support them in all respects and continue to do so,” he says.
Noosa is kicking goals of its own, experiencing significant growth in both domestic and international visitor numbers and visitor spend is soaring.
Noosa’s international visitor spend was up 73 per cent to reach $105.9 million for the year ending September 2016.
Tourism Noosa CEO Damien Massingham says the continued investment by Noosa’s tourism industry has helped to boost Noosa’s reputation as a tourism and events destination.
“Noosa has seen over $100 million worth of investments in the past few years with new properties and major refurbishments,” he says.
The most recent investment was the rebranding of Sheraton Noosa Resort to become Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, the first Sofitel-branded resort in Australia. The resort’s conference facilities cover more than 720sqm and include seven flexible meeting rooms and an outdoor terrace.
In April, the resort will host the Tourism Summit 2017, an annual industry event by Tourism Noosa.
Massingham says 2017 will see Tourism Noosa review its strategy for the corporate market with a new focus on attracting the “high-end corporate market”.
“Noosa is blessed to be one of those sought after destinations due to its perfect blend of nature, captivating scenery, access to fresh local food served by award winning chefs and restaurants,” he says.
“Coupled with venues offering state-of-the-art facilities in breathtaking locations, Noosa offers business planners the ideal meeting place as well as a destination that clients want to extend their visit, combining work and leisure.”