RISING STAR: The Southern Downs has been labelled a tourism destination following a 75 percent rise in visitors. ​
RISING STAR: The Southern Downs has been labelled a tourism destination following a 75 percent rise in visitors. ​

Visitor number highest in years as region reaps tourism boom

Southern Downs tourism operators have recorded one of their best years yet, with visitor numbers surging a whopping 75 per cent.

According to Southern Downs Regional Council, more than 3600 extra visitors stopped into Warwick and Stanthorpe visitor information centres between October and December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.

But those staggering numbers could be even higher, according to local accommodation owners.

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At Country Style Caravan Park, owner Kim Thorburn believed the true increase could be between 80 and 100 per cent.

Mr Thorburn said international and state closures had propelled the region as a Queensland hotspot.

“A lot of people had only just passed on the area, never bothering to stop because they didn’t see Stanthorpe as a destination,” she said.

“We’re getting a lot more repeat visitors now, who enjoyed it and are coming back and recommending it to friends.

“We’re being seen as a destination rather than a transit stop.”

Digital advertising was also allowing the entire world to see what the Southern Downs could offer.

With one of the first strong sunflowers crops in two year, Warwick Visitor Information Centre fielded more than 1200 sunflower queries in December and January alone.

According to SDRC, the first mention of sunflowers posted to the council’s Southern Downs and Granite Belt Facebook page on 19 November 2020 reached more than 130,000 people.

In January, nearly 20 per cent of online tickets registrations for Warwick’s Great Australian Bites festival came from outside the region.

Kim and Jamaine Thorburn from Country Style Caravan Park.
Kim and Jamaine Thorburn from Country Style Caravan Park.

Southern Queensland Country Tourism CEO Peter Homan said and there were signs the industry could reap this boom for three to five years.

“This area’s challenge is not post-Covid. Our biggest challenge is not reopening the international border because people are still reluctant to fly, it’s that Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast are now competing in the same markets as us,” he said.

“The next three years are predicted to be very strong for the Granite Belt and Warwick but after that, the challenge is competing with the bigger players in short-break stays.”

Mr Homan said council projects like a proposed sunflower viewing platform and better marketing were how the Southern Downs could keep its title.

“More mountain bike trails are positive things to do, more itineraries to show off the walks, national parks and great lakes,” he said.

“It’s about promoting. We don’t need to invest that much, we just need to be how we are.”

For Mr Thorburn, water security would remain a top priority in ensuring local tourism could keep trailblazing forward.

“If council is really interested in keeping tourists here, rural tourism businesses like us need more support on water and water purchasing.” he said.

“Currently there’s a fair number of people in the park, probably doing the 120L per person per day, but we’re buying that water in for them.

“Once Storm King Dam fills and Emu Swamp Dam fills, and with the planned water activity available on Emu Swamp Dam, that will also offer a lot more tourists boating, kayaking and fishing.”

It comes as SDRC allocated millions of litres of water to a Warwick Polocrosse Club for the major tourism driver event Barastoc Interstate Series in April.