Industry Insider: Simon Latchford, CEO of Visit Sunshine Coast talks ‘Tourism without Borders’

Industry Insider: Simon Latchford, CEO of Visit Sunshine Coast talks ‘Tourism without Borders’

Regional Tourism Organisations can benefit by working across borders to provide itineraries that match travellers’ needs, according to Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford.

With the latest International Visitor Survey figures coming out this week, and having just attended the first-ever Connecting to Asia Forum in Cairns last week, the message to me is clear – regional tourism needs to align its thinking more closely to how travellers actually travel.

We are very fortunate in the Sunshine Coast in that we have our own airport – in fact Australia’s fastest growing airport for eleven months in a row – along with major airports to the south (Brisbane) and north (Hervey Bay). That means there are plenty of ways to get to get to our region.

That fits in conveniently with how a large number of travellers – especially long-haul travellers from Europe – want to explore our area, which is why Visit Sunshine Coast and Fraser Coast Opportunities combined to market themselves in a number of international markets as ‘Australia’s Nature Coast’.

It acknowledges the historical trend that international travellers might want to experience the Glass House Mountains, Noosa, Rainbow Beach, Fraser Island and Hervey Bay during their trip and don’t recognise (or care) that this area is covered by two separate Regional Tourism Organisations and a number of local tourism organisations. They want a one-stop solution and Australia’s Nature Coast provides itineraries that suit their interests.

The two regions combine to present themselves as one of the most spectacular natural destinations in Australia, and this has particularly resonated in markets such as Germany, France, the UK and, increasingly, America, which has been our fastest growing international market over the past year.

Interestingly, the Sunshine Coast itself was founded almost 50 years ago as a result of amalgamating a number of areas that had previously been known as (Brisbane’s) Near North Coast – hardly the sexiest marketing name. Real estate groups (not surprisingly) pushed for a new name and in November 1966, the Landsborough, Maroochy and Noosa councils agreed to the ‘Sunshine Coast’ name and on 1 August, 1967, ‘Sunshine Coast’ was accepted by the Queensland Place Names Board, marking the day the Sunshine Coast formally came into existence.

However, 50 years later many Australians – let alone international travellers – aren’t totally sure where the Sunshine Coast starts and ends. As the Regional Tourism Organisation our area stretches from the Glass House Mountains and Caloundra in the South, through to the Hinterland and Mary Valley in the west, and north to the Gympie region and up to Inskip, where people take the ferry across to Fraser Island.

The idea of Australia’s Nature Coast was to make it easier for travellers to just keep on travelling, not have to go to a new website and possibly get frustrated and look elsewhere.

Together with Fraser Coast Opportunities we are able to market the ‘Great Beach Drive’, offering over 100km of spectacular beach driving, capturing the region’s dramatic coastline, scenery and wildlife. We can offer a touring route steeped in culture and etched in Australian history covering two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, a Wold Heritage-listed Marine Park and the largest sand island in the world (Fraser Island).

That’s not a bad collection, but it’s only made possible by bringing two RTOs together to build a far more attractive touring proposition that matches what travellers actually want to experience.

In fact, the Great Beach Drive has proven immensely popular with Australians as well, because the marketing activity that has been invested into the project has allowed the Great Beach Drive to be compared to other ‘great drives’ such as the Great Ocean Road, which also straddles numerous regions, local government areas and towns, but is sensibly marketed under the well-recognised Great Ocean Road banner.

Having had the opportunity to meet Queensland Tourism Minister, Kate Jones, at the Connecting to Asia Forum in Cairns last week I know that if we are to be really successful in building the Asian market to its full potential we need to break down silos and work cleverly and collegiately to win the attention of travellers in what is a highly competitive market.

I was very encouraged by the Minister’s drive and positivity, just as I was with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s initiative to put tourism on the front foot by organising the Cairns Forum. It was easy to see the benefits of such an approach in the Cairns region, and as the Asian markets mature we can look forward to Sunshine Coast’s diverse attractions – particularly natural attractions – being a vast driver of tourism from Asia.

The go-ahead to build a new extended runway at Sunshine Coast Airport has already attracted interest from Singapore’s Scoot Airlines, and with the increased capability there is no reason that Sunshine Coast Airport couldn’t become one of the growth centres for south-east Queensland for decades to come.

In fact, we could also see the opening up of new corridors, connecting places like Sunshine Coast with Cairns to provide an even greater range of experiences for Asian and other tourists.

The key is to attract more people to Queensland. If visitors from the UK, France, Italy, Japan or the USA know that they will experience a remarkable slice of the best that Australia can offer by concentrating on Queensland, then it hardly matters that they will travel across a number of regional tourism areas. Together we can offer a rich and rewarding range of activities, experiences and landscapes that – paradoxically – will really set us apart.

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