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Editor’s Note: Gateway is a Skift series featuring first-hand, original stories from our correspondents embedded in cities around the world. The logo reflects where the correspondent is based and not necessarily the article’s focus. Read about the series here.
Australian tourism officials are expecting the Commonwealth Games April 4-15 to attract more than 100,000 visitors to the Gold Coast tourist strip, injecting more than $1.54 billion (Australian $2 billion) into the local economy.
The anticipated surge comes on the back of renewed interest in the Gold Coast as a holiday destination, with the latest government statistics showing the “glitter strip” setting a record for overnight domestic visits, which have risen 14.3 per cent from last year at this time.
Tourism remains a major cornerstone of the region’s economy, generating more than 17 per cent of the Gold Coast’s gross regional product. But it took a big hit in October 2016, when an accident at a popular Dreamworld theme park killed four visitors.
At the time, Gold Coast Tourism CEO Martin Winter predicted the dip would be temporary and the latest stats indicate he was correct.
Commenting on the latest surge, Winter said “this is like a coming-of-age of the city at speeds that would not have been sustained had it not secured the Commonwealth Games. Traditionally, summer is the highest-yielding period and we are hearing reports that many accommodation providers are at 90 percent occupancy.”
Tourism Australia Managing Director John O’Sullivan sees the upcoming Games as the biggest international sporting event staged in Australia for a decade and the largest ever hosted by the Gold Coast.
“Currently, international tourism to Australia is at record levels with more than 8.7 million visitors traveling to our shores in the past year (to September 2017) and spending A$41.1 billion (U.S. $31.7 billion) in the past year. What’s more, we know from research that major events – particularly sporting ones – are significant drivers of visitor demand and key to increasing visitor yield, with around 19 per cent of all international visitors to Australia attending a festival, cultural or sporting event during their trip.”
O’Sullivan is expecting more than 6,600 athletes and team officials from 70 Commonwealth nations and territories along with more than 100,000 visitors to attend the Gold Coast for the event.
Like many high-profile events that draw global attention and visitors from around the world, the challenge for tour operators and hotels will be to deliver experiences and services that are on par with the high rates and the hype. The task after that will be to see whether the Gold Coast will have stimulated ongoing demand after the athletes and the visitors go home.
Operators are excited and optimistic
Dean Gould, Gold Coast Tourism Executive Director, Corporate Affairs and Strategy, has seen “a noticeable level of excitement and great anticipation surrounding this event,” which he believes will be a game-changer for Destination Gold Coast.
His organization recently surveyed tourism operators in the region and found “the industry is overwhelmingly optimistic and views the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games as a fantastic opportunity to showcase the destination.”
Among those benefitting from the pre-Games boom is The Star Gold Coast (formerly Jupiters Hotel and Casino), where Geoff Hogg, managing director – Queensland for the Star Entertainment Group, is anticipating full occupancy throughout April due to the Easter peak period and school holidays leading into the Games.
“During the Games period, our accommodation packages vary from one to five nights stays, with limited numbers still remaining,” he said, adding that rates “remain indicative of availability and demand.”
The Star’s staff will rise from the current 2,000 to more than 2,300 ahead of the Games, he added.
Another beneficiary of the boom is KDV Sport, a new dedicated sporting complex in Carrara, Australia, with multiple golf driving ranges, 20 tennis courts and a thriving academy for up and coming future stars. Russian investors, who saw potential in capitalizing on the Games, built the facility 13 months ago.
“The academy was created to attract the next generation of world-class athletes,” said marketing manager Daman Foy. “Our six-week children’s summer holiday program has already been inundated and we’ve issued more than 2,000 passes at a cost of $50 per day, so we expect around 1,000 kids will take part.”
Delivering value and long-term benefits
Of course, the surge in demand has pushed up rates in the vicinity, especially during the sporting contest.
With rates rising, there’s always a risk that travelers will fear being ripped off, and Gold Coast Tourism has been consulting with operators and the wider industry for some time, “encouraging fair practices so that the city, operators, spectators, the community and visitors all benefit in a positive way,” Gould said. “Prices will be at a premium, as we have seen with any major event, so we do encourage shopping around for the best deals to suit individual needs.”
The other challenge is ensuring that visitor expectations are met, and Gould has no doubts in that regard, saying: “The Gold Coast welcomes 13 million visitors a year. It is a city experienced in hosting large crowds and big events.”
“This is an event on another level and to that end, all levels of government have worked on ensuring the infrastructure is there to accommodate the fans and visitors,” he said, citing more than $1.6 billion (Australia $2 billion) worth of light rail, road works, bus lanes and venue upgrades, which have been completed.
The Star has also invested heavily to be ready for the Games, which Hogg described as “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to propel the Gold Coast forward, and its legacy stands to position the City as a thriving, must-visit destination of choice for both Australian and international tourists and investors.”
“There has been genuine excitement in the lead-up to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games – an event that has the whole Gold Coast working together to achieve one common goal,” he added.