Soaring tourist numbers could help region survive drought
THE steady flow of tourism dollars may keep the Southern Downs afloat as it enters one of its driest winters on record.
A marketing push from state and local tourism departments encouraged large numbers of domestic visitors to pour into bed and breakfasts, restaurants and attractions to provide a much-needed reserve of funding and jobs.
An additional 372,000 people stayed the night on Southern Downs in the previous financial year and that number is expected to rise.
Peak tourist season will begin mid-June and new infrastructure, such as a second range crossing and upgrades to the Cunningham Highway make the area more accessible.
Bluebird Kitchen and Cafe co-owner Jim Osborn said tourism in the next 12 months could make or break the region.
"It's so important that money continues to come into the community,” he said.
"Especially when other industries slow down, due to drought.”
Bluebird featured in a national social media campaign sponsored by Queensland Tourism this week, appearing on Pedestrian.TV to millions of young viewers.
Mr Osborn said he was excited to be able to promote the region in such a positive way.
"Tourism here is headed in the right direction,” he said.
"A solid percentage of our weekend business comes from people travelling from the Gold Coast, Brisbane or Toowoomba and that really helps the restaurant.”
The recent wave of visitors comes as social media extends the reach of popular regional events such as Jumpers and Jazz and the Warwick Rodeo.
"Local businesses are reaching a lot more people than we once were,” Mr Osborn said.
"People need to feel like there's something unique in the region and those events we have bring in people looking for something different.”
Warwick icon Abbey of the Roses estimates a 10 per cent increase in visitors to their landmark bed and breakfast over the past year.
Owner Sonia Hunt said greater numbers of tourists are developing an appreciation of Warwick's distinct history and culture.
"We used to be a drive-through town but now many more people are deciding to stay,” Mrs Hunt said.
"All the mad people from south-east Queensland want to experience the cold.”
Mrs Hunt is grateful her business is able to contribute to Warwick's economy.
"Everyone that comes through here buys something and that helps local businesses,” she said.
Both businesses attribute much of the tourism success to the contributions of Southern Downs Regional Council.
Mayor Tracy Dobie said council project Destination Southern Downs had successfully marketed the diverse region to a wide range of demographics both locally and nationally.
"We want to promote our region as a tourism destination because we appreciate how important it is to bring money into the economy during times of drought,” Cr Dobie said.
"Together with other tourism organisations and businesses we work to bring in as many tourists as possible.”
"The majority of our income comes from the agriculture industry and in times like this you realise how important tourism is for the region.”