SEASON ENDS: Mixed bag for Bay whale watching operators
THIS year's whale watching season has been a mixed bag for operators in Hervey Bay.
The city received a world-first Whale Heritage Site status after the World Whale Conference was brought to the region.
But visitor numbers have been somewhat down this year, with several operators reporting lower numbers after last year's bumper season.
In 2018, almost 60,000 visitors went out on the water to watch the humpbacks stay and play.
Martin Simons, general manager of Fraser Coast Tourism and Events, said the whale watching industry had averaged 54,3000 visitors over the past four years.
"I'm hoping this year will be around that average," he said.
With the season coming to an early close on the weekend, operators were yet to finalise their data on visitor numbers.
Blue Dolphin Marine Tours owner Peter Lynch said there had been fewer visitors and whales than last year, which was disappointing considering the recovery of humpback whale numbers.
"It's probably been a bit quieter, I haven't seen as much as I'd hoped," he said.
Mr Lynch said there could be many reasons behind the slower season.
"The economy is a little tighter with the cost of fuel, electricity and food," he said.
"Whale watching is a discretionary spend."
Despite that, it had still been a great season, Mr Lynch said.
"We've had some beautiful encounters, we've had the whale conference - there have been so many positives for the region," he said.
"The encounters are still second-to-none, it makes Hervey Bay outstanding in that regard.
"Overall it was a great season, just a touch quieter with whale numbers and people."
Mr Lynch said it was now up to Hervey Bay to live up to its new heritage status.
"There's stuff we have to work on and grow to make sure we're worth world heritage status," he said.
"That means we continue to raise the standard of the tours, to show Hervey Bay is a worthwhile place to come and see the whales."
Freedom Whale Watch & Dive Charters owner Sue Reid said the start of the season had been busy, but it had slowed down after July and August.
She said the Joeys Mini World Cup might have impacted the season during the school holidays, as most of the accommodation in the area was booked up.
But Ms Reid said it was heartening to see how many repeat visitors the business had.
"Every day there was somebody who had been on our boat before," she said.
"They love the experience, it is very special in Hervey Bay."
Mr Simons said while whale watching season went for four months, promoting the attraction was a year-round effort.
He said the new heritage status would be a big part of the marketing campaign for next year's season.