Tourism Summary
Whitsunday Tourism Regional Summary

Whitsunday Tourism Regional Summary

The Whitsundays has many natural attractions that are significant within Australia and globally, including the Great Barrier Reef, the second most visited attraction in Queensland, visited by over half a million international visitors each year.

The Whitsundays offers a unique combination of water, reef, island, coast and activities. These are the elements that distinguish the Whitsundays destination from other destinations both domestically and internationally.

The natural product offering of the Whitsundays has been identified as having the most appeal to the following domestic target markets:


Domestic Target Markets - Whitsundays


  • Young Couples, Under 45 with no children
  • Mid-life Couples, 45-64 years with no dependent children

Source Markets

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane


  • Pre-school families

Source Markets

  • Sydney
  • Melbourne
  • Brisbane

Natural Attractions

The Whitsundays has tremendous potential as a destination, offering the numerous natural attractions that a large proportion of domestic and international visitors desire.

Many of these attractions are unique in the context of Australia and rare from a global perspective. They therefore represent a significant area of competitive advantage for the region, one that presents further opportunities in the future, and especially given the growth in eco-tourism activities.

Clearly, the sensitive nature of such an environment must continue to be managed and preserved if the region is to capitalise on the broad appeal that these natural attractions possess.


Just as the Whitsunday's natural assets represent the region's key competitive strength from a tourism perspective, the region's distance from major source markets and access available to these markets could be considered one of the disadvantages. A second weakness for the Whitsundays is the lack of a major international port within the region.

The location of the Whitsundays region and its distance from major Australian population centres adds to the exclusivity of the destination, allowing it to compete with short haul international destinations.

The Whitsundays, due to its location, is also reliant on air access to transfer a high proportion of its visitors.

Whilst demand for seats to the Whitsundays is strong, the mix of passengers is strongly biased towards the leisure market, which is traditionally low yielding. Only a small proportion of passengers flying to the Whitsundays are high yielding business traffic. This has made it difficult for airlines to generate profit servicing routes to the Whitsundays.

Airlines are in the process of developing strategies to improve the profitability of routes such as the Whitsundays that are predominantly leisure traffic.

Unfortunately, the issue of distance also limits the available day trip market and to a lesser degree overnight domestic visitor numbers. Distance also places the Whitsundays at a disadvantage with regard to the increasing road traveller market.

Cost and the time it takes to reach the Whitsundays are issues for both domestic and international visitors. The distance between Whitsundays and domestic source markets also places it in competition with an increased number of other destinations, many of which can be reached for less cost and time.

Competitor Destinations

The Whitsundays closest competition domestically comes from Tropical North Queensland.

Destinations such as Fiji, Hawaii and Bali also are considered competitors for the Whitsundays with these destinations ranking amongst the top four destinations visitors to the Whitsundays may be attracted to in a survey conducted in 2000.


The Whitsundays region attracts over 600,000 visitors per annum with 67% being domestic visitors (426,000) and 33% being inbound visitors (209,754). Eleven per cent of international visitors to Queensland will visit the Whitsundays.

Intrastate visitors account for the largest proportion of visitors to the Whitsundays, with over one third of all (38%) visitors to the region coming from within Queensland. A further 29% of visitors to the Whitsundays originate from interstate.

The Whitsundays region accounts for 2.2% of all intrastate visitors to Queensland, and 3.4% of all interstate visitors.

Visitor Nights

Each year 3.5 million visitor nights are spent in the Whitsundays, with 31% coming from the international market, and 69% from domestic visitors. Although the intrastate market accounts for more visitor numbers in the Whitsundays than either international or interstate markets, it represents the smallest proportion of visitor nights (27%). Both international (31%) and interstate (42%) markets account for a significant proportion of visitor nights spent in the Whitsundays.


The Whitsundays represents a 4% share of Queensland's total visitor expenditure. Visitor expenditure in the region in 1999 was $522 million.

International Visitation

International visitor numbers to the Whitsundays have decreased by an average of 8% to 209,754 visitors in the twelve months to December 2002. The decrease (-8%) was greater than both that of Queensland (-4%) and the national average (-0.3%), however the decline was not as great as that of the Sunshine Coast or Gold Coast (both -11%). (1)

The Whitsundays is the fourth most popular destination for international visitors to Queensland, behind the Gold Coast, Tropical North Queensland and Brisbane.

Domestic Visitation

The domestic tourism market in the Whitsundays has shown positive growth over the last 12 months, after remaining stable for most of 2001. In comparison, domestic visitor numbers to Queensland have remained relatively stable over the last 36 months.

Domestic visitor numbers to the Whitsundays reached 426,000 in the 12 months to December 2002.

In the last 12 months, visitor nights have successfully recovered since the decline that was experienced towards the end of 2000. Domestic visitor nights spent in the Whitsundays for the 12 months to December 2002 were 2,419,000.

The average length of stay by domestic visitors has also increased, from 4.7 nights in the 12 months to December 2000 to 5.7 nights in the 12 months to December 2002.

Seasonal Trends

Overall, the March quarter attracts the highest number of intrastate visitors to the Whitsundays region. The March quarter (36%) is clearly the most popular for visitors from Brisbane, with regional Queensland visitors preferring the September quarter (31%). Intrastate visitors to the region on a holiday were most likely to visit in the March quarter (28%), followed by the September quarter (26%).

Interstate visitation exhibits a more distinct seasonal pattern when compared to the intrastate market.

One third (33%) of all interstate visitors to the Whitsundays visit in the September quarter. Visitors from New South Wales were also more likely to visit in the September quarter than other times during the year. Victorian visitors were equally likely to visit in the June or September quarters.

Most source markets follow a similar pattern with the bulk of visitors visiting the region during the June and September quarters. In part, this may be due to the onset of winter in southern parts of Australia and the desire by residents to holiday in a warmer locality.

Mode of Transport

There are significant differences between the mode of transport used by intrastate and interstate visitors to the Whitsunday region.

Almost two thirds (62.6%) of interstate visitors fly to the region compared to less than 1 in 20 (4.7%) intrastate visitors.

The vast majority (82.1%) of intrastate visitors chose a car as their mode of transport to the region. A significant proportion of visitors from Brisbane (67.4%) also drove to the Whitsundays.

A car is also the mode of transport chosen by 27% of interstate visitors to the Whitsundays, despite being over 1000 kilometres from the nearest interstate source market.

Domestic Air Services

Compared to April 2002 capacity to the Whitsundays region in April 2003 seat numbers have increased by 20% with the introduction of services on the Sydney-Proserpine route and the Melbourne-Hamilton Island route.

Capacity from Sydney to both Hamilton Island and Proserpine has improved over the last 12 months along with capacity from both Brisbane and Melbourne to Hamilton Island. 

Unfortunately, seat capacity on services from Brisbane to Proserpine have experienced a reduction of 24% compared to capacity from one year ago. Recent trends have been more favourable with the commencement of daily Brisbane to Proserpine services by Virgin Blue on September 5th, 2003.

Brisbane services now account for 38% of seat capacity to the Whitsundays, whereas a year ago flights from Brisbane provided 49% of domestic capacity to the region.

Hamilton Island Domestic Airport

The number of arrivals of domestic passengers travelling to Hamilton Island domestic airport remained relatively stable, with a slight decline of 1.4% for the year ended December 2002, with total passenger movements being 235,386.(1) Hamilton Island continues to carry the majority of passengers using air transport in the Whitsundays accounting for 78% of all passenger movements.

Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast) Domestic Airport

The number of arrivals of domestic passengers travelling to Proserpine (Whitsunday Coast) Domestic Airport increased by 39% in the 12 months to December 2002, with total passenger movements being 66,631. Proserpine Airport accounted for 22% of all passenger movements in the Whitsundays region in the 12 months to December 2002.


The Whitsundays region generally has had positive population trends with growth of 1.3% between June 2000 and June 2001. Within the region, Bowen Shire recorded a small decrease in population (-0.3%), which was more than compensated for by a 2.7% increase in the Whitsunday Shire.

Information provided by Tourism Whitsundays