Visitors take off for Chinese New Year

WHAT used to be the quietest month of trading for Whitsunday Airport in Flametree has now turned into one of the busiest, thanks to an influx of tourists from China visiting the region.

Whitsunday Airport CEO Brett Dwyer said that traditionally February was one of the quietest months of the year for Whitsunday Airport, but now what they used to make in the whole month of February they were making in a day.

“Our peak period used to be from September to about December, but over the past five years we’ve had a massive increase of Chinese visitors coming through our airport during their Chinese New Year holiday, so this stretches our peak period right out until March,” he said.

“The helicopters are incredibly busy, their pilots are working 12-hour days and pulling double shifts to meet the demand,” he said.

“We have about 100 movements in our airport every day during February, when usually it’s 60 to 80.”

All aspects of the airport are booming, including the restaurant.

“They go on the helicopters, they go sky diving they go on the planes, they want to try everything,” he said.

“All of our operators are experiencing significant growth in passenger numbers. New business owner Paul Burfitt, of Heli-taxi, said that yesterday he did more than 30 helicopter scenic flights, all Chinese visitors, and this was a record for the business.

“GSL have put on six extra staff members to cope with the influx of visitors. I’d say that 95% of our visitors are Chinese. Our safety videos are in English and Chinese.”

While visitor numbers to the region are booming, Mr Dwyer said that the town needed to increase its accommodation capacity to meet the demand.

“Last year when we did our airshow the whole town was totally booked out, there was no available accommodation. The impact this had on our Airshow was to limit the visitors to our region and ultimately attendance numbers at our Airshow,” he said.

“I am sure that the Airlie Beach Music Festival would be equally impacted by the lack of accommodation. Regional events will not grow and become viable until adequate accommodation is available.”

Mr Dwyer said it was important to make the most of our Chinese tourist market.

“They are the perfect tourist. They usually travel in family groups, quite often including their grandparents. They book into self-contained apartments, they’re never in the pubs drinking or causing a disturbance.

“They’re doing tours, spending money and most importantly enjoying everything that our region has to offer.”

“All our souvenirs have sold out at the airport, they love to buy mementoes and anything that says ‘Airlie Beach’ on it.

“It’s something they can take home with them and show all their friends.”

Chinese New Year celebrations begin in the second week of February, with the actual new year beginning on February 8.

Celebrations usually continue until the end of the month.

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