Ways to harness the untapped tourism potential of the Pilbara and empower local operators to thrive will form part of the agenda at the Pilbara Tourism Association’s first conference in April. About 150 participants from across the State, including Tourism Minister Roger Cooke, are expected to gather at Karratha’s Red Earth Arts precinct for the Destination Pilbara Warlu Way Tourism Conference on April 4 and 5. The conference will host operators and stakeholders from across the North West to network and share ideas, while selling Karratha and the Pilbara to delegates from Perth and presenters from the Eastern States. There will be presentations from industry leaders and local tourism operators can upskill at workshops on tour guiding, astrotourism, event development and management and social media. Pilbara Tourism Association project consultant Neil McGilp said the association had been working with businesses and local governments to develop a unified vision for Pilbara tourism and market the region as a holiday destination in itself. “We are looking at how we can grow and connect as a prosperous Pilbara visitor economy,” he said. “To use tourism as a way of developing the local economy, of diversifying and not just putting all our eggs in the mining basket, to see how we can develop a great tourism presence for the Pilbara region.” Mr McGilp said the Pilbara had the potential to rival towns like Exmouth and Broome. “We are a very young and emerging region, and because we have got such competition from the resources industry in terms of accommodation, flights and competition for personnel, it is a lot harder for our industry to develop,” he said. “So we have to work out strategies where we can overcome those barriers and grow.” Mr McGilp said there was also opportunity to embrace the mining industry as a point of difference for visitors to the region. “(The Pilbara) has all the assets but it needs time and aid to help it develop,” he said. “So that is the role of the project that we are undertaking ... to help build new tourism businesses with a special focus on Aboriginal tourism, to work with the operators who are looking to try and set up some new tourism tours or improve and expand their existing operations and help them get that product out there and into the marketplace.” The conference is funded through Federal Government’s Building Better Regions Fund. For more information visit destinationpilbara.com.au.