Future tourism: The future of our island resorts
A BILLION-dollar transformation is positioning Queensland's iconic island resorts for a new era of luxury getaways.
Long synonymous with the state's image of tropical escape, many of the islands have struggled over the past decade, devastated by natural disasters and allowed to run down through lack of investment as Australian holidaymakers jetted off to South-East Asia.
But the holiday islands on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef are returning better than ever to reclaim their place as jewels in the Sunshine Coast's tourism crown.
"We're on the brink of a new heyday,'' billionaire tourism magnate Chris Morris told The Courier-Mail.
"There's a few things to get right. But those glory days of our iconic island resorts are on the way back."
InterContinental Hayman Island will open its doors to guests for the first time in two years in a soft opening from the start of next month, following a $100 million rebuild post-Cyclone Debbie in 2017.
Daydream Island will hold its official gala opening with tourism leaders and celebrities on Saturday after a $140m relaunch in April.
Mega-resort Hamilton Island and high-end boutique luxury resorts such Orpheus, Bedarra and Lizard islands are near-capacity in forward bookings.
Heron, Green, Fitzroy and Lady Elliot island are also trading strongly.
And while Great Keppel, Brampton, South Molle and Lindeman islands are closed, they are slated for development.
The former Club Med on Lindeman was bought in 2012 by Chinese group White Horse, which is spending $600 million creating a beach resort and luxury spa retreat.
Cashed-up investors are buying into the leisure market because of the resurgence in island resorts, positive tourism trends and the cheap Australian dollar.
Dunk Island, off Mission Beach in north Queensland, and Long Island and Elysian Retreat in the Whitsundays, are up for sale with price tags of between $10 to $25 million.
Computershare founder Mr Morris is eyeing Dunk Island along with two other wealthy Australians and a Singapore owner-operator who plans to rebuild the world-famous destination.
Largely defunct since Cyclone Yasi in 2011, the revival of Dunk - a sale is expected to be announced in the next two weeks - would be an economic boon and symbolic vote of confidence in the future of the state's tourism industry.
"The more good places to go the better,'' Mr Morris, who owns Orpheus Island, said.
"I went to Dunk as a kid and it was the greatest. One of the best places to go for a family holiday. It's got a head start to build something special because it has an airstrip, mains power, unlimited water and is close to the mainland."
Tom Gibson, vice-president of JLL Hotels, which is marketing the sale, said freehold tenure was a big drawcard.
"Dunk Island is one of the very few islands along the Australian coastline that has the foundations to become the nation's next tourism icon,'' he said. "On a macro level, the low Australian dollar is supporting the record growth of inbound tourism, which in turn is driving infrastructure development into gateway hubs of Cairns and Brisbane.''
Resort owners and operators told The Courier-Mail Future Tourism campaign some of the biggest obstacles in the next decade are the global image of the Reef's health, prohibitive insurance costs, and attracting the right staff.
Other potential obstacles include disjointed tourism marketing campaigns, affordable pricing for resort stays, flight accessibility, and "land-banking" by foreign owners.
Lizard Island Resort, an hour's flight north of Cairns, is owned by US billionaire Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the family-owned Delaware North company, which recently took it off the market.
With 40 luxury villas, it is a frontier destination in the Coral Sea for famous guests such as Prince Charles, Tiger Woods and Charlize Theron.
It also bore the brunt of cyclones in 2014 and 2015, crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, and two coral bleaching events, in 2016 and 2017.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland chair Wendy Morris singled out Lizard Island as a major drawcard for its turquoise waters, history in seafaring, indigenous culture and an extraordinary rebound in the recovery of the reef.
"Lizard has gone from ground zero to not yet hero but working towards that,'' the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority board member said.
"The juvenile corals coming back like a newly planted garden is cause for optimism and is evidence of natural resilience.''
Pinks, blues, green and gold light up the coral, with the waters filled with blue-and-gold damselfish, huge Maori wrasse and plots of fluorescent-lipped giant clams.
"The best way to help, is to come see it for yourself - it will blow your mind, change the way you think about nature … and you're contributing financially to the reef's protection," Mrs Morris said.