Tourism, the juggle of short-stay letting and growth
THE person commanding the attention of everyone in the packed room with his clearly articulated views about opportunities and challenges during the recent Sunshine Coast Tourism Futures forum, started in the industry as a kid working in a restaurant after school.
That 1980s’ gig was to see retiring Noosa Tourism CEO and its former chairman Steve McPharlin progress through the industry in all disciplines from operations to sales and marketing to the point he arrived in the iconic tourist town 11 years ago as the owner of the award-winning Noosa Boathouse.
He was quick to find himself in the middle of the politics of amalgamation and de-amalgation through his role on the board of Tourism Noosa
Taking over as chair of Tourism Noosa in 2012 from Geoff Rickard, Mr McPharlin’s key focus was that the Noosa brand remained the key focus in a challenging tourism and political environment.
He says he understands the economies that were being attempted by the amalgamation of councils, but it was not going to work for tourism at the time.
In a wide-ranging interview on the cusp of leaving Australia on a 12-months sabbatical with his wife and two young sons, he has shared his opinions on everything from short-stay holiday letting which he absolutely supports, through to how to best manage the growing demand and appeal for visiting Noosa.
The key take home message for everyone in the sector was that the customer was always right, and we have to keep lifting our standards
“It’s incredible how you can turn an unreasonable person into a vocal evangelist of your business if you can resolve their issue.”
That razor-sharp focus on product and client have been central to his success.
The one thing that was different about Noosa, Mr McPharlin said, was that its overnight inventory was fixed and with no new resorts in the pipeline.
“We have a healthy annual occupancy rate but we’re at the risk of complacent prosperity. We have healthy demand but need to ensure all operators lift standards of authenticity and quality.”
Tourism Noosa’s role was to encourage and support accommodation managers of strata-titled properties to convince owners to re-invest and upgrade and we are pleased with how our industry has responded.
Short-stay letting of homes also had a place in the market if the process involved a licence fee, a rigorous set of standards and product safety compliance.
Mr McPharlin said Tourism Noosa unanimously supported adoption of such recommendations which gave consumers access to a choice, be that a bedroom or a full house.
“I support the right to a choice, given in a quality, authentic way,” he said.
“The experience is the key for Noosa.”
What was out of everyone’s control was people (day visitors) coming into the resort precinct of Hastings Street which may put pressure on that experience.
“How you manage that is challenging,” Mr McPharlin said.
“Noosa is part of Australia. It’s everyone’s Noosa. Tourism Noosa will work with Noosa Council, business, environmental and resident groups on ideas to maintain the standard of the experience.
“Our motto is ‘We need Noosa to be a great place to live and visit’.”
What should not be missed in that, he said, was that locals came before visitors, but we also need a healthy and sustainably growing economy.
The peak tourism body has done significant research on how destinations in other areas globally were meeting the demand challenge with it still to be determined whether, or not, Noosa was already too busy. Demand though was increasing.
More he said could be done to address traffic, parking and public transport.
What loomed large was the projected growth of South East Queensland through to 2040 which would escalate demand.
Tourism towns in growth corridors around the world, Mr McPharlin said, were at risk of their experience changing and potentially diminishing.
“Tourism, the positives and negatives, could well be an election debate,” he said.
“I hope when the dust settles Noosa councillors have the courage to support the need for businesses to grow the economy.
“It will be an interesting election process about the balance of Noosa’s strengths in business, environment and residential amenity.”
Mr McPharlin remained passionate about the opportunities available to Noosa through supporting indigenous tourism products in partnership with traditional owners.
That step was, he said, a key to attracting high-yielding, longer-staying tourists to an environmentally-responsible destination.
The McPharlin family won’t be around to see “the dust settle” after local government elections in March.
They leave on December 15 for a year-long holiday based principally in Europe with skiing and cultural experiences the perfect change from the seaside paradise they call home.