EIGHT massive projects valued at $480 million have been given the priority stamp in a report that aims to boost tourism along the iconic Great Ocean Road.
In a major win for the south-west, the majority of the projects are located in this district, demonstrating the need for future investment that caters for the growing “experience-seeker” market.
Shipwreck Coast Tourism executive officer Carole Reid yesterday described the report, a joint initiative of federal and state governments and the local tourism industry, as a “very exciting document” that had been needed for a “long, long time”.
Labelling it as the region’s most important-ever tourism study, Ms Reid said it provided a master plan that would drive private investment and justify the case for government funding.
Number one on the list is a $100 million interpretive centre at the Loch Ard Gorge, including a shared bicycle and walking trail that would extend along the coast from the 12 Apostles to the Bay of Islands and inland to Timboon.
Other projects include a $54 million boost for nature-based tourism at Lake Condah, a $35 million international resort at Port Campbell and improvements to the Great Ocean Road and the Princes Highway.
The Great Ocean Road World Class Tourism Investment Study, released on the weekend, finds the eight projects could deliver $1.1 billion in short-term economic benefits and more than 700 jobs during construction.
After completion, they could provide nearly 1900 jobs and $700 million to the regional economy.
Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said new tourism infrastructure, attractions and accommodation would ensure Australia “remains a compelling destination” but warned projects must be based on a cost-benefit analysis.
“State and local governments can use these audits to set spending priorities, inform planning and zoning processes, and attract investment in tourism infrastructure,” Mr Ferguson said.
State Tourism Minister Louise Asher said there were big opportunities for investment from the fast-growing Chinese market.
“These audits assess the experiences that visitors are looking for, and which opportunities bring the most revenue and employment compared with their cost,” Ms Asher said.
“Opportunities for the Great Ocean Road include eco-tourism such as walking trails and five-star wilderness lodges, as well as improved visitor information.”
The study targets high-yield international visitors, referring to them as “experience-seekers”.
It says the Great Ocean Road region attracts between 6.5 and 7.5 million visitors each yearHowever, forecasts show this will grow by another 2.4 million people by 2030, requiring an extra 3440 guest rooms.
It suggests a range of new accommodation to fill the gaps including four resorts, 90 farm stays, five backpacker hostels, five caravan/tourist parks, 12 hotels/motels, 50 guest houses and self-contained accommodation.
The study also highlights the need for improved transport links and calls for improvements to the Great Ocean Road surface and facilities such as passing bays and rest areas to increase capacity.
“The Princes Highway is in poor condition from Winchelsea to Warrnambool,” it adds.
“There is a need to improve the road into a dual carriageway to support growth in population and visitors.”
It calls for airports at Warrnambool and Avalon to be upgraded: “Warrnambool airport has potential to be developed further to allow for commercial jets to land, although currently the runway is not long enough to accommodate this.”
It says more train services between Melbourne and Warrnambool and improved public bus transport along the coastal route are necessary to meet existing and future demand.
“The key gap here is the lack of a public coach service which links Great Ocean Road towns and product.
“This service would be important for backpacker and independent travellers.”
The study also suggests improvements to coastal facilities such as harbours, marinas and jetties to significantly improve access to the region by water. It says there is also an opportunity to introduce water-based viewing of the 12 Apostles, departing from Port Campbell.
Ms Reid said Shipwreck Coast Tourism was actively involved in the development of the document which was finalised after workshops and consultation with local government and the industry.
She said the report confirmed that it was the lack of facilities favoured by high-yield “experience seekers” that was preventing the region from boosting its share of the tourist dollar rather than a need to spend more money on marketing.
“We need to be able to provide what people want.”
She said concepts such as a signature accommodation resort at Port Campbell, an upgrade of the Warrnambool airport and better public transport links along the coast would help fill existing gaps.
“If someone doesn’t want to self-drive, the ability to have a multi-day experience along the Great Ocean Road is almost impossible.”