They have paved paradise

TOURISM Whitsundays' decision to tackle the economic slowdown in the Whitsundays with an aggressive marketing campaign has prompted a variety of responses from the local community.

Many have applauded the tourism body's choice to make actions louder than words.

One of those is Dave Phare who has lived in the Whitsundays for about 17 of the last 20 years and is a New Christian Church Minister.

He is backing TW's effort to reinvigorate the economy in Airlie Beach, but says the problem runs deeper than just neglect of so-called “destination marketing”.

Mr Phare believes that Airlie Beach's identity has been eroded by recent “concrete jungle” development, which he says has been implemented without vision.

This kind of growth has undermined the region's image and hurt the Whitsundays tourism industry, according to Mr Phare.

Visitors come to Airlie Beach expecting an unspoilt paradise with a village atmosphere, but nowadays they are finding a place that is increasingly turning its back on the qualities that first put it on the map as a tourist town.

“The area's lost its identity as a tropical paradise destination,” he said.

“People used to come here to get out of the city for a while. It used to feel relaxing.

“It's not an escape from the city as it once was.”

Mr Phare said he favours development and believes the town would die if growth stopped.

But he argues that Council must ensure that every new project that is approved is in keeping with an overall vision for the town.

He said that so many of the features that made this town such a great discovery to tourists are gone.

When you think of a tropical paradise destination, you think of coconuts and trees and thatched high-peaked roofs – Airlie Beach used to have that feel.

“Now only Magnums and the Bali Hut (outside the sailing club) have that feel and we are constantly seeing big ugly concrete buildings pile up on the Airlie hillside and next to the water.

“These days if people want to go to a tropical paradise for a holiday, are they really going to consider Airlie or will they choose Bali or some island in the Pacific where it actually still feels tropical?”

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