Backpackers coming back to Mackay region
BACKPACKERS are coming back to the Mackay region and they are looking to spend money, take up casual work and get some adventure under their belts.
Mackay has experienced re-growth pains after the latest mining downturn and creating a tourism market for young international travellers could be a revenue stream stream the region is potentially missing out on.
Data collected for the Our Future Mackay campaign shows Mackay has had a spike in overseas visitors in the 18-24 age bracket.
Demographer Bernard Salt said he expected most of this traffic could be attributed to backpackers.
But local business owners say getting those backpackers to stay for more than one night was the biggest challenge.
Cheryl Christian from Gecko's Rest Backpackers in Mackay's CBD said backpacker traffic had began to pick up in the past four to five months.
"They only stay for a day or two - mostly as a way to break up the trip to Airlie Beach or Rockhampton,” she said.
"We used to get a lot of backpackers stopping for an extended stay in Mackay to pick up casual work - mostly in hospitality or farm work. But most of these jobs, I'm finding are taken by locals now.”
Ms Christian said most of her backpacker clients were looking to travel to Cape Hillsborough or take a day trip out to one of the many islands offshore.
"Unfortunately there isn't a lot by way of tours, or day trips to suggest. Many of them arrive in town on buses or trains and there just aren't any tours to offer them. They can't rent a car because they are too young and public transport isn't reliable either,” she said.
She said she got a lot of positive feedback from her young travellers about the bluewater lagoon and Eungella.
Mike Koch, from MyCow at Baker's Creek, said Mackay was not really seen as a backpacker destination.
"That's a shame because there is a lot to offer in our region.”
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He said one of the things he took time to do when backpackers booked into MyCow, was to sit down with them and show them all there was to do in the area.
"That alone usually gets them to stay another night or two,” he said.
" I tell them about Platypus Beach, the lagoon, the amazing beaches and travelling to Eungella to see the platypus.”
Mr Koch echoed Ms Christian's complaint about not enough tours to accommodate the backpacker influx.
"They have money to spend within the community but if we're not giving them a reason to stay, they will move on to Airlie Beach where they're spoilt for choice.”
He also said there was a serious need for reliable public transport to and from Baker's Creek into town and that included the need for a safer bus stop.
The current bus stop required backpackers to cross the Bruce Highway and two bridges.
"This could potentially result in a fatality.”
Due to the lack of tours and reliable public transport, Mr Koch said he was often driving backpackers to and from shops and tourist destinations. This all in the effort to make the business work.
He said an ongoing concern for backpackers was the safety of the CBD at night. He had received many complaints about young females getting harassed by men while out on the town.
"Backpackers talk when they cross paths and it would be a shame if Mackay got a reputation for not having safe nightlife.”
Mr Koch said he thought a solution to get backpackers coming to Mackay and staying longer was to educate them before they arrived through information centres in Rockhampton or Airlie Beach.
He also believed that social networking campaigns showcasing the region would be successful.
"At the moment, backpackers are getting the wrong advice about Mackay,” he said.
"And for this particular market, it's about the destination not the journey. If there is the opportunity for them to see something interesting - they will definitely stop here in Mackay.”