Day trippers drive the Hunter’s record year in tourism

SHIFTING SANDS: A Quad Bike King tour group explores the Stockton dunes in December. The Hunter’s record year in tourism has been driven by almost 6.7 million day trips, a 17 per cent increase. Picture: Marina Neil- Why Asia is in love with the Hunter

THE Hunterhas enjoyed a record year oftourism, with a day tripper-drivenincreaseofmore thana million visitors whocollectively spent$2.3billion.

The total10.1 million visitors in the year to September was up by 1.25 million people, and tourism chiefs creditthe international pull ofthe Hunter Valley wine countryand Port Stephens, andthe newfound urban chicof Newcastle.

Tourism Hunter chairman Will Creedon said thesector’s boost of $120 millionwas a windfall for the near-six thousand businesses and28,000 workers who rely on the Hunter’s visitor economy.

The valley and Port Stephens bothhad three million visitors in twelve months.

Newcastle,long overlooked byholidaymakers, drew more than fourmillion.

There was a steady rise invisitors stayingin the Hunter overnight, both from Australia and thetraditional overseasmarkets ofBritain, New Zealand and the USA.

ButMr Creedon also pointed to the burgeoning number oftourists from China, India and South Korea who stayed in Sydney and visited the Hunter for the day.

“There were nearly 6.7 million day trips, which is a 17 per cent increase. It’s a big number,” Mr Creedon said.

“With the day trips you don’t know where they’ve come from, but our business is growing in Korea, China and India.”

BIG NUMBERS: Tourism Hunter chairman Will Creedon has lauded the Hunter’s record visitor numbers. Picture: Simone De Peak

The Hunter’s brand has been bolstered, Mr Creedon said, by itsassociation with events such as football’s2015 Asian Cup and next year’sV8 Supercars Championship race in Newcastle.

The V8 race has become a flashpoint for some residents of the city’s East End who are angryabout the looming disruption and what they say has beenalack of consultation by Newcastle City Council.

But Mr Creedon, a vocal supporter of the race, said the success of 2017 as “a building year” for the Hunter’s tourism will hinge on a receptive approachfrom locals.

“With respect to Novocastrians, I think a lot of people have a lot to say in Newcastle without knowing what they’re talking about,” he said.

“I think we need to play the long game.”

Records have also tumbledat Newcastle Airport, whichoverhauled its passenger recordin a calendar year by November, moving 1.21 million people.

“October was our biggest ever month at the airport, and since November last year we’ve been growing every month by around the sixper cent mark. That’s twice the growth rate compared with Sydney Domestic [airport]’s business,” the airport’s chief executive Peter Cock said.

“It shows the strength of the Hunter tourism product. Just over a year ago we opened our new terminal, so I think people are giving us a go.”

TAKING OFF: After a record year at Newcastle Airport, chief executive Peter Cock says the best way to attract international flights is for locals to keep using the airport’s domestic services. Jonathan Carroll

The airport hasopenlycourtedcarriers forinternational routes to New Zealand and South EastAsia, though Dr Cock declined to predictwhether2017 wouldbe the year overseas-bound flights began taking offfromWilliamtown.

He said the most effective wayfor locals to unlock international routes –with a trans-Tasman service the most likely starter –is to flyfrom Newcastle whenever possible onthepresent carriers Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, FlyPelican and Rex.

“What I can do is promise to try andnotleave any stone unturned,” Dr Cock said.

“We’re trying to get into that virtuous cycle where people are using their local airport and airlines are putting flights where the numbers are.”