Need to rethink Queensland’s tourist industry

It is time to face facts in the Queensland tourist industry. For most of us, real estate prices have plummeted in the last couple of years and for all the hypefrom the sales section of the industry,

there does not seem to be any reason to believe there will be a quick turnaround. Costs have risen rapidly and the high Australian dollar plus lousy weather and changing tastes in holiday aspirations for Australian families have combined to make most the industry a lousy investment for managers and unit owners in the holiday letting pools.

Many of us have our life savings in smaller, older complexes that are expensive to maintain and refurbish and that are unlikely to attract the patronage of the new types of overseas tourists from China and India that the government advisors and tourist industry associations are suggesting are going to be the saviours of our industry. Even newer, larger complexes have expensive defects and building deficiencies to solve and higher body corporate costs that make them unattractive investments for people. Many people at the top end have seen the biggest drops in values and this has had a trickle down effect for everyone.

Most Queensland holiday investors are ordinary Australian families who have purchased a dream, a wish to use real estate investments in sea change areas to help fund retirements and to enjoy a bit ourselves on the way. Resident managers and unit owners alike have our futures riding on these investments and we are hurting.

Answers are not going to be easy. The traditional holiday makers may never return unless we start to do things differently. The solutions are going to be individual to each complex and we need industry leadership to encourage resident managers and holiday unit owners to work together to explore options for their complexes to improve occupancy and profitability for everyone. And to give holidaymakers a more modern experience that they will enjoy and want to repeat and want to tell other people about so we can get bookings.

We need resident managers and holiday unit investors to work together to find our individual complex’s unique selling position – what makes us special and different from our neighbours and then work out ways of promoting those differences to potential customers using new and old media

It seems to me that modern day holidaymakers are no longer satisfied with a sun and surf holiday. As a youngster I am sure many readers would remember fondly family holidays at the beach were a real treat and relished by all. It was a simpler age where we were delighted to be at the beach and would frolic in the surf for hours (none of the warnings of skin damage although sensible mothers often encouraged hats etc), play sandcastles with the smaller ones in the extended family group, talk to others and meet people our own age and not be afraid to forge new friendships, even brief ones, for holidays, go home to the unit for fish and chips (lunch or as it was then dinner), have a snooze in the afternoon, a walk along the beach in the arvo, then an ice cream cone and finally a simple barbie for tea. The holiday unit might have been a bit spartan but we were happy because we loved the beach experience and slept soundly.

Nowadays families are all very busy and ready for action. Parents expect kids clubs, electronic amusements that are even more special than they have at home or probably have brought with them, special amusements and unique experiences for all. Kids and their parents fill in their days with theme parks, movies, shopping, games, Internet.

Grandparents have to learn to cater for these new age activities and so do holiday unit complexes. Our competition is Bali or Fiji or even more exotic overseas experiences all at inclusive-package rates and we have to compete with exotic cultural and culinary experiences.

The Maynard family units used to have regular guests returning same time each year from Sydney, Melbourne and New Zealand, often for extended periods. The visitors’ books in our living rooms used to record the return patrons with their glowing comments on how lovely it was to be back.

We feel like old friends even though we have never met them.

Sadly for us and them, most of those regular holidaymakers do not come back anymore. Probably the older patrons are now less confident that they can still afford the Queensland beach holiday each year. Have the Reserve Bank been told that lower interest rates mean that self-funded retirees have less discretionary spend available?

If they come at all, regulars stay a shorter time. Everyone is busy, busy, busy. Also nowadays most of us have renovated or moved and we already live in very comfortable surroundings so staying somewhere else does not have the same appeal. From the comfort of our own nicely decorated homes we can see beach views on our plasma TV screens or large computer monitors and put the sound of the surf on and anyway ‘the grand kids need looking after Tuesdays and Thursdays’, the ‘Friday bridge team couldn’t live without me’, ‘the volunteer refugee tutoring is on Wednesdays’ and ‘I can’t miss that TV program’, etc etc. Do we really want to share a bathroom or work in a less superior kitchen just to go to the beach?

There are solutions. Managers and investors can work together. One of our complexes is being turned into a wellness centre. The resident managers offer early morning yoga, in-room massages even addiction counselling and special vegetarian foods for sale at the office. This new approach seems to be bringing new customers to our units. Check it out on Look for that unit being promoted by the Anti Cancer Council upcoming campaign against smoking in units – a great marketing opportunity.

The other approach is a tried and true long-term strategy, worth repeating. It is simply an authentic attempt by the on-site managers to be friendly and helpful to all guests. Nothing is too much trouble for our Port Douglas managers. They carry the suitcases in for you (overcoming the stairs problem) and they know the area intimately and offer all sorts of suggestions to holidaymakers to have a special vacation that is truly memorable and worth sharing with friends, neighbours and family when the patrons return home. Check this one out at When asked what percentage of return guests she gets, manager Carmel says, “I don’t let them leave without a further booking,” and we have seen her in action.

This approach brings people back and encourages holidaymakers to spread positive word-of mouth.

I would be interested to promote dialogue from readers who have other solutions that might work for other to encourage patronage in this new era of holidaymakers.

Let’s not just whinge about the problems. It is much better to share the solutions.

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