Great Keppel Island Hideaway.
Great Keppel Island Hideaway. Glenn Adamus

Where the bloody hell are ya? GKI of course

SECLUDED beaches, turquoise waters and breathtaking reefs beckon swathes of European visitors to the recovering shores of Great Keppel Island.

French and German travellers make up the bulk of overseas visitors, and join southern domestic holiday-makers in their return to the island after Cyclone Debbie wiped out both sand banks and holiday bookings.

These are the observations of GKI Hideaway co-director Peter Lowe, who attributed the increased occupancy to marketing and collaboration with Capricorn Enterprise.

"We can't afford to do multi-million-dollar campaigns into Germany and Europe... but with Capricorn Enterprise we can get a foot in,” Mr Lowe said, as he explained the Hideaway was owned by three local families.

"When the old resort was doing so well down the road, a lot of their occupancy was based on overseas travellers.

"We thought, 'If they can do it, why can't we?'.”

Capricorn Enterprise CEO Mary Carroll explained the Hideaway was among the operators who had benefited from a six-month training program to teach them to contract with inbound tour operators, and wholesalers in the tourism industry.

Ms Carroll said the region's top-five international markets were the United Kingdom, Germany, France, New Zealand and North America.

Now, international travellers make up 7% (150,000 people) of visitors to the Southern Great Barrier Reef, which encompasses the Capricorn, Gladstone and Bundaberg regions.

Of that, 56% is attributed to the Capricorn region from the Central Highlands to the Keppel Islands.

Ms Carroll explained the tourism body had also spent time and money to host domestic inbound tour operators on behalf of foreign travel agencies to experience the destination, and share their experience with their overseas counterparts.

Teamed with all-inclusive packages encompassing airport and harbour transfers, accommodation, food and activity, it was now "very, very easy” for an international travel agent to sell destinations such as GKI Hideaway.

"We have as a regional tourism organisation been very strategic in how we spend our limited resources and we have very purposefully focused on growing our international market,” Mrs Carroll said, referring to a six-year effort.

"Particularly our western international market, because if we can grow that 7% international visitation, to even 10%, the international visitor stays longer, spends more and will have a bigger impact to our tourism economy here in a shorter period of time.”

GKI's 17 "squeaky-clean” beaches, peaceful bush-walking trails and "distinct lack of crowds” were revealed to the 7,921,930 people who followed Tourism Australia's Facebook page (Australia.com) earlier this month.

GKI Hideaway has already ramped up operators to meet the growing demand, and has added new cabins to comfortably accommodate about 200 people at a time.

"Basically, GKI hideaway and other products did not exist clearly in the tourism trade prior to them contracting with the inbound tour operator,” Mrs Carroll said.

"So with GKI Resort having been closed for 10 years, with the property prior to GKI Hideaway not being in the tourism trade, GKI and Yeppoon, before Capricorn Enterprise started to put operators through programs six years ago, basically did not exist to tourism distribution.”

Mr Lowe said Cyclone Debbie rendered the resort quiet for months, but the turnaround since mid-June had shonea "light at the end of the tunnel”.

"A lot of guests booked in down south cancelled holidays.... they assumed central Queensland was wiped out,” Mr Lowe said.

As the resort ramps up its operations, so too do other businesses.

"GKI Adventures are geared up, they've purchased more jet skis in anticipation for the September period,” Mr Lowe said.

"They've increased their staff level considerably. They have put on an extra four staff. It used to be a wife and husband team.”

A number of big events are on the cards for GKI to see out the year.

On November 11, the Slippery Sailor Sunset Sessions will celebrate one year since local fisherman Nathan Milner launched his clothing brand, Slippery Sailor Co. The inaugural Rumble On the Reef Beach Volleyball tournament will lure players from across the country, with murmurs Australia's highest-ranked player will compete.



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