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Queensland fails tourism moment of truth editor Martin Kelly says Queensland has a lot to offer – but the sunshine state must face up to a few home truths.

The political thought police are back in action in Queensland – and the news is all bad for the state’s tourism industry, which needs honesty, not self-deception, in what is shaping as a pivotal period in its history.  

This story begins with Jetstar featuring a Lonely Planet description of Cairns shops “bursting with Ken Done clothes and stuffed koalas” while its esplanade lagoon is “an attempt to make up for the fact that waterfront Cairns doesn’t actually have a beach”.

Tourism Minister Jan Jarratt told AAP: “I do find it perplexing and I am pursuing a meeting with Jetstar to determine the company’s rationale in this approach”. The offending words have since been removed and the Queensland Government has censored what the online forums are almost uniformly calling the truth.

Meanwhile, Ken Done shirts and koalas are still being sold in Cairns while there’s no sign of a real beach ever materializing on its tropical shores. Jarratt may have appeased a few tourism operators but she has done nothing for the industry she represents.

And it is an industry in trouble. During 2010 – before the floods – the number of visitors to Queensland from the two biggest markets – Sydney and Melbourne – was the lowest on record. Overall interstate tourism was down 3% while international fell 2%.

In Jarratt’s home market of the Whitsundays, visitor numbers slumped 9%.

The entire state of Queensland is being impacted by long term trends – shorter breaks, international travel, a preference and ability to try something new, and – dare I say it – a head in the sand approach from some local operators.

To date, much of the political focus has been on Far North Queensland – where the industry was built to service mass tourism of decades past – but thousands of kilometers to the south, Gold Coast operators are also doing it tough.

And once again the weather is not to blame. There were literally thousands of apartments and rooms still for rent during the normally busy Easter school holiday period.

One basic reason is that Government – local and state – has allowed too much accommodation to be built in a 40-year building frenzy that the GFC brought to a crashing halt.

No way could all the apartments and hotels could ever be filled with tourists, there are simply too many of them.

An attendant reality is that the northern Gold Coast – from Broadbeach to Surfer’s Paradise – is a high-rise mess, massive towers dominate everything including the still beautiful beach, while the drive along the Gold Coast Highway, littered with half-baked buildings, hoardings and empty lots –  is depressing: no prettier than Sydney’s much-derided Parramatta Road.

Food on the Gold Coast is also expensive – more so than Sydney and Melbourne. Surf clubs want $30 for main meals with no table service, while even the local RSL clubs are charging like wounded bulls, and it’s difficult to feed the family for less than $100.

That’s the truth. Ugly as it is.

But the Gold Coast, like most of Queensland, is still a great place to visit. The southern beaches remain largely uncluttered and beautiful. There’s a relaxed, coastal vibe you don’t get in the southern capitals and there is plenty for the kids to do.

Accommodation, thanks to the glut, is also fantastic value right now, to an extent counter-balancing the expensive food. All in all, a great place to spend a few days with the family.

I still like it, flaws and all, just don’t tell me the Gold Coast, and Queensland for that matter, is something it’s not.

This article first appeared on

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  1. scotty
    5 May 11
    10:35 pm
  2. @ Martin- where to start?I think you are turning the same jaundiced eye on Cairns as that embittered travel writer from Lonely Planet all those years ago (it is an outdated review, you know).

    I visit Cairns weekly and can`t say I`ve clapped eyes on a Ken Done shirt in over a decade but I must admit they WERE very big in the 80`s, whilst koalas/RM Williams/boomerangs/shark-tee shirts et al litter a huge number of shops in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne….in fact, ANY tourism precinct across this vast country has it`s fair share of tacky souvenirs on offer.Big whoop?! Why should Cairns alone be derided for this….?

    As for your observation’ while its esplanade lagoon is “an attempt to make up for the fact that waterfront Cairns doesn’t actually have a beach”.’ well, really! How very dare it! Yes, it`s on the coast but at the mouth of a tidal river with mudflats and mangroves that provide amazing bird watching possibilities and great fishing opportunities but doesn `t suit a sandy beach. The lagoon, however, looks great in this setting and provides a focal point for the locals and tourists to enjoy.

    But the question must be asked: why would Cairns need a sandy beach when that is not what it`s famous for?They`re EVERYWHERE in Oz!! Ten a penny.

    The GREAT BARRIER REEF (a natural “wonder of the world”,don`t you know?) is what put Cairns on the map and now adventure tourism and access to rainforests are the more recent additional draw cards. The cool beauty of the Tablelands,the sophistication of Port Douglas, the beauty of Palm Cove, splendid isolation at Cape Tribulation, historic Cooktown, the Gulf/Savannah country, Cape York……all these wonderful experiences are part of Cairns` cache of tourist delights.

    Similarly, attacking the Gold Coast for having tall buildings is a bit rich in the 21st century: this has been a feature,lamented by some,appreciated by others,for DECADES.It`s our glitzy bit of Las Vegas-meets-Disneyland-Daytona Beach ,especially over Schoolies` week. Great surf, a casino,heaps of nightclubs,bars, (overpriced…?) restaurants, shopping malls and amusement parks. It`s been a popular destination for domestic and international tourists for yonks for a very good reason.

    The issue which you are attributing to “self deception” is more an example of what an extremely high Aussie dollar can do to an industry than what an industry has done to itself.

    Our country as a whole hasn`t had to deal with having the world`s most successful currency in most of our lifetimes: retailers are going under competing with cheap imports, industries are relocating production overseas and our high-earning population is doing likewise with their holiday adventures. Transport, wages, insurance, rents, business loan rates and utility costs have soared whilst the domestic and international tourism numbers have been decreasing.The mighty dollar has seen to this.

    Queensland has had substantial investment in tourism, in some cases, over investment. However, I think you`ll find that Byron Bay, the Hunter Valley and many other tourism-based towns in NSW,Victoria, SA, WA etc have been suffering from a softer market this past 18 months and no-one is doing backflips about current and near-future prosperity. These are tough times in tourism,full stop.

    Attacking Queensland and our tourism minister over claimed misrepresentation is unfair in the circumstances and serves no purpose after the recent summer catastrophes than kicking a man when he`s down and I question the impulse to write such an article.

    I`m sure I won`t be the last.

  3. Greg Cole
    6 May 11
    9:58 am
  4. There’s two Ken Done shops within 100 metres of my office in the Rocks. Every morning I feel my wallet twitching in anticipation…

  5. cheeks
    6 May 11
    3:34 pm
  6. always knew you were a closet twitcher Coley

  7. Tony
    6 May 11
    6:43 pm
  8. What did Ken do, to gain all this attention???

  9. scotty
    6 May 11
    10:26 pm
  10. I dunno, ask Lonely Planet`s reviewer……(but I reckon we should pick up a commission every time we mention his name….Ken Done, Ken Done,KEN DONE,ken done!)

  11. Ken Seattle
    11 May 11
    9:20 am
  12. yeah 30% is the going rate isn’t it ?

  13. Dave Cox
    21 Jul 11
    9:00 am
  14. Too funny. Here on the Gold Coast last week there was a big discussion all over the paper and radio saying the Gold Coast has done itself an injustice by discounting its dining so much and was saying the food on the GC was too cheap! The front page of the paper was “Bacon & eggs with ocean views for $2.95!”. Seems like you just can’t win these days :-)

  15. scotty
    21 Jul 11
    5:22 pm
  16. $2.95!!!!! Wow!!!!!! Wonder how much a cappo costs? I mean, no one could complain about THAT, could they, hey!

    Maybe it`s all just a Labor plot to divert attention away from the Carbon Tax….?

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