The downturn in the Pilbara’s all dominating iron ore industry has opened a window of opportunity for the region’s tourism potential.
For half a century the Pilbara’s spectacular desert ranges and rugged coastline have been overshadowed by the multi-billion-dollar iron ore industry.
But the drop in iron ore price has prompted business and industry leaders to look for ways of diversifying the Pilbara’s economy to make it less reliant on the mining sector, and the formerly neglected tourism industry has been touted as the way forward.
“For our part of the Pilbara, tourism has been neglected for the last decade,” Bazz Harris from the Karratha Visitor Centre said. But the iron ore downturn has already had a positive impact on the affordability of holidaying in the Pilbara, Mr Harris said.
“The good thing is when people call us and say, ‘Hey, can I actually come to Karratha or is it going to cost me an arm and a leg?’, we can actually get people one night’s accommodation for 110 bucks, which is very normal,” he said.
Local member for the Pilbara, Brendon Grylls, said that during the mining boom, travellers with caravans were driving between the Ningaloo Reef and Broome and not stopping, but that has now changed.
“There wasn’t a spot in the caravan park for the tourists to park their caravans because it was taken up by a construction worker,” Mr Grylls said.
“The perception of tourism in the Pilbara has taken a bit of a battering. That’s understandable given the cycle that we’ve come from, but we’re now out of that. The people with their caravans visiting Broome are driving through the Pilbara.”
Mr Grylls said now is the time to get behind the region’s tourism industry and promote the riches that have been overlooked.
“We now need to work hard to promote the spectacular coast. The Dampier Archipelago, Karijini and Millstream are our well-known sites but increasingly also the events we hold in the Pilbara,” he said.
Professor Ross Dowling, a lecturer at Edith Cowan University, says “geoparks” are a new type of tourism product that Western Australia should invest in.
“Geotourism” allows travellers to explore the geology, and history of the landform, as well as the flora, fauna and culture of a region.
Professor Dowling said it is in Western Australia’s own interests to embrace this new tourism product because it has a type of destination popular in Europe and China.
“We already have a significant number of Europeans coming down here to WA. We are wanting to have a new wave of tourists from Asia, especially from China, coming down,” he said.
“Well the Europeans and the Chinese understand geoparks… If we have them there it’s more likely that travel agents will be able to sell a package to the North West that says if you come to WA you’ll be able to see some great geoparks.
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