A History of Douglas Tourism in the Modern Era

or How to Fix a Broken Douglas Tourism Model

1. 1981 Great Barrier Reef Inaugurated the World Heritage List

Global interest in the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest was accelerated as this positioned the Douglas Region as the only location in the world to pivot between two World Heritage sites.

2. 1988 Sheraton Mirage Five Star Hotel Opened

Port Douglas rapidly emerged as the “Jewel in the Crown, with the opening of the Sheraton Mirage Five Star Hotel. Known for the Celebrity Visitors who enjoyed the charm and personality of Port Douglas and The Reef and Rainforest.

3. 1998 Douglas Tourism Strategy Plan

This was the real deal in terms of a combined Destination Management and Marketing Strategy Plan. The Plan was full of historical Tourism data, with insightful descriptions of the various Precincts, Nodes and Linkages within the Tourism Shire.

Sustainable Economic and Environmental Tourism were seamlessly  front and centre within the Strategic Plan, with clear Marketing, Product Development, Infrastructure Development and Tourism Organisation and Management Objectives articulated in a precise and straightforward way. The Strategy Plan recognised Tourism as the principle driver of the economy.

An Implementation Action Plan was outlined across 30 pages with Responsibilities outlined in detail. Signed off in January ’98, it was sadly never implemented due to the “political climate” of the day!

4. Key Development Indicators for Port Douglas

From 1998 to 2002 the number of beds in PD increased +50% from just over 4,000 to just over 6,000, driven by rising property prices, leading to over-supply, indicating a lack of planning for building approvals.

Property prices peaked in 2006 before reducing -35% by 2011/12. Occupancy plunged -15% and Average Room Rate ended -13% lower than 2003 levels.

Tourism Massification was now an established trend in Douglas Tourism.

5. 2006 to 2011 saw a Further -19% Decline in Visitor Numbers

This significant decline was an underperformance of Douglas Tourism against competitors such as Noosa and Byron who both increased their Visitor Numbers by +24% and +14% respectively in the same period.

The GFC and Cyclones Larry and Yasi were also negative factors from which we’ve not recovered. Sadly, our Leadership has allowed events to dominate pro-active Growth Strategies during this period.

6. 2009 Port Douglas Master Plan

This significant transformational Master Plan never got off the ground, and after ten years of apathy and complacency by both CRC and DSC, it probably never will.

The Master Plan would have enhanced the “Built Assets”, and restored Investor and Community confidence, just as Douglas Tourism was reeling.

Stalling and Politicking has seen subsequent DSC regimes do nothing to progress this Revitalisation Project, and there has been a lack of public engagement by the Douglas Regions Leadership.

7. 2012 Melbourne Business School Port Douglas Strategic Plan

Another impressive Port Douglas Strategic Plan simply gathers dust!

This is worth another read today, since it remains relevant in terms of practical solutions to reverse the Tourism Massification Trend of the last 15 years.

8. Douglas Tourism Organisation and Leadership Last 2009>2018

TPDD is an agency of Douglas Shire Council, and has been restrained from providing a “fit for purpose” role in securing economic certainty for Douglas Tourism.

There are two reasons for this. Funding at $660,000 p.a. represents 0.001% of the $574,000,000 Douglas Tourism business. That is not a serious recognition of the economic importance of Douglas Tourism.

Secondly, there are no Forward Budgets for Tourism Growth, so any positive performance is always accidental. Both DSC and TPDD only report historically in terms of Douglas Tourism Performance.

The two Trend Graphs below explain the zero growth in Total Tourism Visitor $Spend, in the last five years:

$585 million in ‘13/’14 (adjusted for CPI) compared to $574 million in ‘17/’18.

The second Trend Graph pinpoints the extent of our Douglas Destination decline, since at today’s values Tourism Visitors $Spend was the equivalent of $1,900 in ‘94/’95 compared to $1,291 in ‘17/’18.

9. Douglas Tourism: The Solution

We need to implement a transformational change in how we manage our Tourism Sector.

  • Need a sense of urgency to undertake a Tourism turnaround
  • Douglas Tourism Strategy needs to be centred on well managed, sustainable Economic Growth
  • Fundamentally, we need to commercialise TPDD, or whatever the new organisation will be, as a Profit Centre
  • We need to ensure the Douglas Tourism Accommodation Sector thrives, since Tour & Events > Restaurants and Bars > Retail are all dependent
  • 60% Accommodation Occupancy implies that all Tourism Sectors above are only operating at the 60% level
  • So we need to lift Occupancy performance in the Shoulder and Low Seasons
  • We need to employ a top flight C.E.O. together with a Professional Team of Executives to manage Douglas Tourism in the short > medium > and long term
  • Douglas Tourism $Value Growth should be budgeted at double the rate of Douglas Visitor Numbers Growth
  • TPDD needs a 21st century website which will enable Tourism Customers to Review>Compare>Select>Book>and Pay
  • The new Douglas Tourism Organisation will be based around an inclusive Owner/Membership Collective model way beyond the current exclusive 150 Member model – we have 320 Tourism Businesses in Douglas Tourism and 1,435 Douglas Businesses overall!

The new Douglas Tourism Organisation will operate a $Revenue/$Expenses/Profit model similar to:

Revenue 100%
Marketing & Promotion 30%
Variable Expenses 55%
Fixed Expenses 10%
Total Expenses 95%
Retained Earnings 5%

The new Douglas Tourism Organisation will have around $3.5 million to $5 million to invest in a dynamic Douglas Tourism Advertising & Promotional $Spend

The new Douglas Tourism Organisation will own a Douglas Tourism Database paying respect to the 500,000 Tourism Visitors who stay with us each year

It’s time to act now and support the changes we’re recommending.