Tourism chiefs point to the future

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Pilbara Dive and Tours' Natalie Callanan and Pilbara Tour Co's Sarah Knowler speak about starting their own tourism businesses in the past year at the Destination Pilbara conference.
Camera IconPilbara Dive and Tours' Natalie Callanan and Pilbara Tour Co's Sarah Knowler speak about starting their own tourism businesses in the past year at the Destination Pilbara conference. Credit: Pilbara News, Alicia Perera

Pilbara tourism leaders gathered to discuss the range of opportunities and the next steps to developing them at a regional conference last week.

About 70 delegates from Karratha, Roebourne, Tom Price, Paraburdoo, Port Hedland and Newman gathered at the Karratha Leisureplex for the second two-day Destination Pilbara: The Warlu Way Tourism Conference, hosted by the Business Centre Pilbara.

Business Centre chief executive Paul Jagger said the organisation wanted to hold a second annual conference, on the theme of “consider the possibilities”, to encourage collaboration in the sector and build on its Federally funded Warlu Way tourism development and support program.

“We’re running the conference because it gives us the ability to keep that conversation alive and develop that conversation further that’s going to hopefully engage local government and all of the other government or non-government agencies that play a role in tourism,” he said.

“Quite simply we’re still at the infancy stage in terms of developing tourism in the Pilbara region,” he said.

“We are engaging and inspiring and motivating people with a a call to action.”

Mr Jagger said momentum was building for tourism in the region and a lot of progress had already been made in the year since the first conference.

An example of the rapid progress prospective tourism operators could make in a short time was demonstrated in a segment dedicated to the owners of Pilbara Dive and Tours, Pilbara Tour Co. and the Jummi Factory, all of whom started their businesses in the past year.

Overarching research and trends in the sector were presented by national or State bodies, including Tourism WA, the WA Indigenous Tour Operators Council and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.

Meanwhile, a collection of established local operators — including Ngurrangga Tours’ Clinton Walker, Port Hedland Seafarers’ Centre and Pete West from Flying Sandgroper Tours — presented their experiences as case studies to show how people could get started and grow in the emerging industry.

Tourism WA destination development executive director Derryn Belford said its research showed the Pilbara industry was under development but there were encouraging signs.

“Overall what I would say is that the research reinforces the view that the Pilbara region is still really in the development phase,” she said. (Derryn is female).

“We are at that stage where we need to build more product, more experiences and tell more stories about what we have here at this time.”

Mr Jagger said now was an ideal time for operators to enter the market as the mining downturn had created a “perfect storm” of circumstances for tourism operators to get started.

“You need people in your workforce — there’s a ready willing and able workforce now living in the Pilbara,” he said.

“There’s an abundance of commercial and domestic accommodation, and the cost barriers to getting into and running small business have changed markedly over the last four or five years.”

“So if that’s the status quo, that’s the perfect time to really get serious about getting into new enterprise.”

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