'Go west' outback Queensland tourism campaign urges coast-huggers

A coast-hugging road trip is a well-known, must-do Australian holiday, but a new tourism campaign is encouraging tourists to go west to outback Queensland.

Drive North West Queensland was developed by local councils, economic development groups and the Outback Queensland Tourism Association, and includes two self-drive routes between Cairns and Townsville.

“There’s barramundi, fishing, lava caves, there’s big cattle stations, there’s fossils at Riversleigh, there’s dinosaurs at Richmond and Winton and Boulia,” Richmond Mayor Wharton said.

The two self-driving tours launch on the coast and direct tourists to remote regions in the north-west.

“The Discovery Drive, which departs Townsville, goes to Hughenden, Winton, Boulia, Mount Isa and right back down the corridor into Townsville,” Mr Wharton said.

“And then there’s The North West Loop which starts in Cairns and comes out to Mount Garnet, Georgetown, Normanton, Karumba, Burketown, down to Cloncurry, back to Julia Creek, Richmond and Hughenden and back into Townsville.”

Mayor Wharton said the campaign has gone worldwide and is already being promoted in China through Trade and Investment Queensland offices.

‘Accessible’ outback Queensland

Anita Clark, a tourism consultant involved with the campaign, said the aim was to build awareness around the depth of experiences in north-west Queensland.

“We need to demonstrate how accessible it is because these drives are on fully sealed roads,” she said.

Ms Clark said while the majority of holiday visitors to Queensland’s outback were domestic travellers, there was room for international growth.

“In outback Queensland as of June 2017, 97 per cent of our outback visitors were domestic — which works out to be 251,000 holiday visitors,” Ms Clark said.

“International visitors, we have 19,000. And that’s taken as a three-year average.”

Interest from China

While a majority if those visitors came from Europe, there were signs of growth from the North American market.

But Ms Clark said Queensland should keep its eye on the Chinese.

“It’s exciting that Queensland is attracting a larger portion of the Chinese leisure travellers compared to other states,” she said.

“On average, the Chinese don’t get the same amount of annual leave as what some of the market do, so I think it may be a while off before the Chinese start doing the drive in huge numbers. But they’re certainly very welcome.”

Philip Pearce, a foundation professor of tourism at James Cook University, was also involved in the campaign due to his recent work on emerging tourism markets.

“Over the years I’ve had a number of international students, including Chinese students, and we started studying what people from that national group were doing in Australia,” he said.

“One of the activities was some Chinese driving around the more remote parts of Australia.”

Professor Pearce said while the numbers were not yet huge, it was a trend worthy of research.

“It’s still not very common. There’s only a small number who are doing it. But sometimes with such a big market as China you need to be very aware that a small number can grow into a big number very, very quickly,” he said.

For the Chinese, driving in Australia’s wide-open spaces offers an experience far from what they are used to.

“Driving in China is something like a nightmare because the big highways are so full of trucks and transport and crowds, so the driving experience itself is quite enjoyable in Australia for many Chinese,” Professor Pearce said.

And Professor Pearce said work needed to be done to market Australia’s stargazing opportunities.

“I think one of the very special things we need to think about and promote more is our dark sky, our ability to see the skies at night,” he said.

“This is a special interest market, but in the Chinese context this is a very popular emerging interest area for travellers.”

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