A casino could provide a “terrific boost” to the Sunshine Coast - providing the development was handled in the right way, the region's leading tourism body believes.
Sunshine Coast Destination Limited CEO Steve Cooper said while the Coast remained a popular choice for families looking for a safe, ''clean and green'' holiday, it was a very competitive and challenging time for the tourism industry.
“We need to look at how we can retain our natural strengths but also remain innovative and meaningful to existing and potentially new markets,” Mr Cooper said.
“If a casino facility were to be developed sensitively in terms of scale and in the right location, i.e., the Coolum Golf and Spa, then I think it could provide a terrific boost for tourism in the Sunshine Coast region.”
The Sunshine Coast promotes its point of differences with the Gold Coast, principally that it is less developed, less commercial and more family-focused.
Mr Cooper said the Sunshine Coast tourism mantra was “naturally refreshing”.
The northern coast’s natural landscapes and lack of high-rises, as well as its location, have long been considered some of its biggest tourism advantages.
Throughout the years, councillors and mayors have often argued against development projects as being more suited to the Gold Coast and plans for bigger resorts, theme parks and expansions to shopping centres have all come and gone.
But the idea of bringing a casino to the Sunshine Coast is one notion that refuses to completely disappear, despite having polarised the community.
At various times over the past years, everything from a boutique casino at Noosa to a casino and retail precinct in Maroochydore has been suggested, but the attachment of Clive Palmer's name to a potential project has sent the rumour mill into overdrive.
Mr Palmer has not confirmed he plans to build a casino on the Sunshine Coast, despite trademarking the name Coolum Casino and the domain name www.coolumcasino.com.au last month.
Mr Palmer said he trademarked the name to prevent other “tourism operators from doing so in the future”.
Despite this, rumours have persisted the mining magnate plans to build a casino on the Coolum Golf Resort and Spa site, of which Mr Palmer took full control in late March after paying an undisclosed amount to Hyatt Hotels who had been managing the resort.
However, speaking to Steve Austin on 612 ABC Brisbane radio yesterday, Mr Palmer again denied he had concrete plans.
“At this time, we don’t have anything firm ... we are working on a whole range of things on the Sunshine Coast and once all those things come together, we’ll make an announcement, we’ll seek to see what the government’s position will be on all of that,” Mr Palmer said.
As for incorporating a casino into the Coolum resort which sits in the shadow of Mount Coolum, a popular challenge for bushwalking enthusiasts, Mr Palmer said he was aware of the area’s family-friendly reputation.
“I don’t think a casino on that site where the hotel is would be conducive, because that is an area which has been set aside for a long time, for families and things like that. There may be other parts of the coastal geographical sections which may be suitable, but certainly not within the hotel complex itself,” he said, adding that he said he was considering “major investment” on the Sunshine Coast, which did not necessarily include a casino.
Proponents of a casino on the Sunshine Coast point to it as an advantage in attracting the lucrative Chinese tourism dollar. The resort and casino island of Macau, a stone’s throw from China's southern coast, has grown to be four times the size of Las Vegas in just eight years.
Sunshine Coast tourism stakeholders have increasingly focused on China as a tourism saviour, with the council strengthening ties with its Chinese sister city, Xiamen, and delegations from both regions visiting each other’s countries.
However it is Australia’s trans-Tasman cousins who remain the number one international market for the Sunshine Coast (a new seasonal flight route between the Sunshine Coast and Auckland is slated to begin in July), followed by Europe, the United Kingdom and America.
But China remains on the radar.
“In terms of China, Queensland wants to be the first state to be China-ready and is rolling out a program of workshops and up-skilling operators in preparation. Solid work has commenced to ensure that the Sunshine Coast is relevant to this important market,” he said, adding that the Sunshine Coast’s “lucrative golf experience” was also being marketed internationally, the Coast being home to the Australian PGA Championship.
However, where there is talk of China, talk of a casino seems to follow.
Mr Palmer told the ABC he was merely looking to the future.
“Certainly, the Chinese character for stress has the same meaning for opportunity and at a time when we’ve got very low labour costs, when people are worried about their jobs, it makes sense to invest in something that may be three, four years in the making,” he said.
“That sort of capital expenditure will itself become a great stimulator for jobs in a region like the Sunshine Coast, but the same thing is true for central Queensland and north Queensland. We are looking at major projects at the moment, we need a lot of investment to stimulate our construction industry and the small businesses which feed off it.”