Over-tourism is a problem that’s affecting popular holiday destinations around the world and Noosa Shire on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast is among those feeling the heat.
Noosa is trying to manage a “building tsunami” of tourists, and residents have had enough, a local government conference heard this week.
Mayor Tony Wellington says Noosa Shire Council is considering a range of solutions, including a social contract, limits on events, introduction of paid parking and even the use of behavioural change experts.
Figures for 2018 show Noosa had 2.3 million visitors last year with a total spend of $950.6 million. A tourism levy on local businesses currently brings in $2.5 million a year for the peak destination body, Tourism Noosa.
Cr Wellington is the first to admit the tourism boom has brought economic benefits and is a problem that many other councils would dearly love to have.
But it’s been a double-edged sword for the community.
While Noosa’s pitched as the relaxation capital of Australia, in peak holiday time it’s more often chaos and congestion rather than R&R, Cr Wellington says.
“Marketing shows empty beaches and uncrowded surf but in holiday peak period that’s far from the truth,” he he told the Regional Cooperation and Development Forum on Sunday.
Short time lettings via Airbnb are not only causing problems for residents in terms of noise and reduced parking, but they are also reducing the number of properties available for long term rental, affecting rental prices and housing affordability.
In some areas of Noosa the percentage of short term stay properties is a high as 41 per cent, and in the suburb of Sunshine beach, 526 properties were on offer last January.
“Council’s currently seeing a significant pushback by some sectors of the community against the success of the tourism sector,” Cr Wellington said.
“There are residents who are increasingly frustrated by the traffic congestion, the crowds and the difficulty of getting access to key locations within their own shire. And if we leave that unchecked that resentment will continue to grow.”
There’s little relief in sight with the south east corner of Queensland expected to balloon by almost 2 million more people by 2041 and the Sunshine coast expecting growth of 200,000.
“In other words there’s a sort of a building tsunami of day trippers. Our issue is how do we deal with this great driving tourist market?” he says.
Noosa hosts a number of iconic events including the Noosa Food and Wine Festival and the Noosa Triathlon but Cr Wellington says council is currently getting community feedback a new policy which would see events in the shire limited.
“We’re under constant pressure from events businesses and organisations to approve more events, meanwhile residents are pushing back saying our public land’s being alienated, there are too many road closures, too many crowds,” he says.
Apart from trying to broaden the local economy so it’s not so reliant on tourism, council has also established a sustainable tourism stakeholder reference group consisting of representatives of 13 peak bodies representing business, the community, tourism and environmental groups.
“The aim of this group is to determine what sustainable tourism should actually look like for Noosa and how the hell we get there,” he says.
“We’re currently working on a joint declaration, a social contract with our community about what we believe sustainable tourism means for Noosa. “
Council is also looking at transport solutions including live traffic info, free buses and putting controllers on roundabouts.
“We’ve enlisted help from behaviour change experts because we know we have to change people’s expectations before they come into Noosa about how they move around,” Cr Wellington says.
Even paid parking, a big city solution Cr Wellington says council has always avoided, is on the table.
Cr Wellington told the conference council is still desperately seeking solutions, but short of “a shark attack or a natural disaster or global financial collapse” a silver bullet remains elusive.
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