Outback tourism boom boosts residents' spirits
TOURIST and caravan parks in and around Charleville are hoping for increased tourism during the next year as people from around Australia choose to travel to drought-affected areas in the hope of supporting and boosting the livelihoods of rural towns.
The Evening Star Tourist Park owner Craig Alison said he had experienced his best season yet, with numbers "increasing exponentially”.
"It sure has been a good season,” Mr Alison said.
He said improved innovation at his park, including the formation of a not-for-profit landcare group, stargazing nights, school visits and ensuring travellers were involved in caring for the environment, helped spread the word about travelling to and staying in the region.
Mr Alison said "fluctuations are part of the game” but encouraged tourism operators to "ride the waves” and embrace new ideas and projects to attract travellers.
"I have people spreading biological cactus buds in regional Queensland, through the landcare group, and next year they'll come back and see how it went.”
Mr Alison, who was presented with the South West NRM 2016 Mulga Awards tourism award for natural resource management, has also worked in showing travellers how mulga growth shapes southwest Queensland landscapes as a native, weed and livestock fodder.
He said people staying at his park, located outside Charleville on the Adavale road, often had their own knowledge to offer and he was always keen for their feedback in their areas of expertise to help run his park and maintain the surrounding environment.
"We've kept abreast of expectations through surveys, feedback loops and by being humble and asking people what their experiences in life are if they've had similar challenges and how they have met those challenges,” Mr Alison said
"They might think, 'I know a bit about this' and they'll call up a month later to follow up.”
He said he often gave talks to campers about the Natural Sciences Loop, inspiring them to change their itinerary and take in more of the region, including Quilpie, Thargomindah and Cunnamulla.
By including people in caring for the area, such as with a 5km clean-up around his park, Mr Alison said travellers felt a sense of inclusion and ownership, they took photos, talked to their friends, and motivated others to make the trip.
One group of van tourists calculated the occupants of each van spent about $280-$300 in one to two days in a town.
"I'm excited for not only next year but for the next five years,” Mr Alison said.
"It's happening now - people are coming out and asking how can they contribute in this time of need and I say to them they're actually doing it now.”
Jo Whittington, owner of The Red Lizard Camping Ground, 6km outside Charleville, said this year's high season had been "busier than ever before, which is good to see”.
Ms Whittington said she thought more people travelled to Birdsville's Big Red Bash and other regional events, which enticed convoys of people to outback Queensland.
She said media attention encouraging families and travellers to visit rural areas and support towns struggling in the drought was working.
"They're definitely helping the town by coming through and doing a bit of shopping.
"You can tell by looking around Charleville that it's pretty busy and when it's busy, it's been very busy.
"On the whole I think it's been a pretty good season for most.
"Some people get upset about roos on the road, which can be a bit confronting, but I don't think it's putting people off.”
People travelling during the drought were able to learn and understand more about what rural areas were experiencing, Ms Whittington said.
"They want to talk to you about it. There's some people who are shocked it's gone on for seven or eight years like it has here.”
People could be deterred from travelling to Charle- ville at Christmas because of the heat but "if they could manage, it's better than not coming at all”.
Cobb and Co Caravan Park owner John Mossley said figures remained steady at his park these holidays and he was keen to promote the area and encourage more tourists to spend money in town.
"Every business in town should be aware of trying to keep people in town for a day or two longer as the benefits flow on to everywhere,” he said.
Mr Mossley said each person who stayed in the area contributed on average $84 a day through fuel, shopping or a trip to the pub.
"People are going to go where they feel welcome to stay and spend their money.”
He said some travellers might shy away because they were worried there was not enough water in the area.
"But people understand when they're here,” he said.