GREAT WESTERN: The hotel's owner Colin Bowden with his new part-owner and general manager, Denis Cox.
GREAT WESTERN: The hotel's owner Colin Bowden with his new part-owner and general manager, Denis Cox. Maddelin McCosker

Young and restless: Rocky needs to capture missing age group

THE peak visitor age for overseas visitors to Rockhampton is just 17, according to data produced by social commentator Bernard Salt and presented at last week's Future CQ breakfast.

The 17-24 years age bracket represents the highest number of overseas visitors who are passing through the city in droves, but not necessarily staying long.

Mostly they are en route to Airlie Beach or Cairns, so how do we keep them that bit longer?

It was the question panellists discussed and the opportunity they considered.

The Great Western Hotel's general manager, Denis Cox, sees a lot of backpackers at his hotel, which is listed in Lonely Planet tourist guides as one of Rocky's key attractions.

"Backpackers don't spend a lot of money and that's what we need to work out,” Mr Cox told the audience of 100.

"Rockhampton is a stopover where they have a glass of water and a bowl of chips.”

Mr Cox said backpackers generally don't know what there is to do in the region and that's something that needs to be addressed.

"How can we cause them to stay in Rocky an extra night because of all the great things that are here?”

Rockhampton Region Mayor Margaret Strelow echoed the need to build Rockhampton's tourism product and for the city to step up as the regional capital.

"I don't think we've done that as well as we should have recently,” Cr Strelow said.

"There's a role for collaboration but there's also a role for leadership and I think that's something we've done a lot better than we have in the past.”

The mayor sees China as an important part of the region's future, including millennial tourism.

"We're actually very proactive and very excited,” she said.

"We do have tour groups coming, but there's a huge opportunity and a growing market for Chinese millennials who aren't necessarily into the big tour group thing as the older generation are.

"They are starting to break out with a new confidence and income.”

A company has been commissioned to run platforms on Chinese social media sites WeChat and Weibo speaking very much to the independent travellers.

A smart phone app is also being designed to make this region easy to understand in order to have an "authentic Australian experience”.

"Although they might go to the Gold Coast to get those type of experiences, my aim is that Rockhampton is the place they will find the easiest to get around independently,” Cr Strelow said.

"There is masses of stuff going on with China.

"It is a huge opportunity and we are grabbing that with both hands.”

Mr Cox said it was important for Rockhampton to find its unique point in a market that looks to the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Cairns and Port Douglas as Queensland's holiday destinations.

"We are the Beef Capital of Australia, whether you like it or you don't we need to embrace it,” he said.

"It's not a bad thing that we're a little bit country.”

He referred to Fort Worth in Texas, which is known as Cowboy Town.

"It's brilliant, you go there and there's rodeos every night, steers walking down the main street every day.

"We need to embrace that unique part, but when people come here they will discover we're more than just beef - we're barra, we've got Great Keppel Island...

"But we need a hook that gives people a reason to come to this region.

"Once they are here I can make a list of 20 things to do, and you know what, 15 of those are free.”

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