Byron is well known as a tourist hotspot, but could that be shifting?
Byron is well known as a tourist hotspot, but could that be shifting? Tourism Australia

Byron Bay is an 'extension of the Gold Coast': Research

TOURISM researchers are investigating why there's been a downturn in visitors to Byron Bay after a new report revealed a notable lack of growth over the past three years.

Researchers said it could be because the beachside town was becoming "more a highly frequented extension of the Gold Coast rather than a planned in advance leisure day trip destination".

Byron Shire tourism monitor Destination Byron observed 2.04 million visitors to the region for the year ending June 2018, which is down 4.7 per cent year-on-year, taking into account domestic overnight visitors, domestic visitor nights, domestic day visitors, international overnight visitors and visitor nights.

Marketing manager David Jones said Destination Byron's focus in 2019 was to monitor hotel occupancies and average rates for a report on the state of play.

"We're already seeing variances in what these data sources are saying, for example, online travel agents claim demand is up 7 per cent year-on year," Mr Jones said.

"Then there's short term holiday letting sites such as Airbnb and Stayz, which throw demand statistics out considerably."

The report revealed a lack of growth over the past three years for domestic overnight visitors, especially compared to the period 2013-2016, but still brought in a whopping 818,000 visitors for at least one night each.

Mr Jones said he believed the negative year-on-year visitor nights (4.05 million for year ending June 2018 - down 10.6 per cent) was caused by a possible "shortening length of stay" by both domestic and international visitors.

He said if Byron was on the international tourist's agenda, then it was "typically a small part of a hectic itinerary" with places like Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru, Tasmania and the Margaret River also on the "must-do" list.

Many international visitors also bundle in New Zealand or Fiji on the same trip.

"The proliferation of discount international deals from the likes of Trip-a-Deal and Luxury Escapes, etcetera, is sometimes more compelling than a pre-planned Australian holiday. You can often fly to most parts of Asia for a couple of hundred dollars more than flying domestically," he said.

"Byron Bay would need to curate a much stronger and more articulate reason as to why an international visitor should stay more than a couple of nights - if that's what the operators in the shire want."

The largest driver of demand is the domestic market, which accounts for more than 80 per cent of tourism.

"Domestic day visitors are thought to be down on paper (minus 7 per cent), however my observations tell me they're up," Mr Jones said.

"The population of South-East Queensland is expanding and the classification of a day visitor in this report isn't compatible with someone that lives on the Gold Coast and visits Byron Bay once or twice a month for leisure.

"For the domestic market, Byron Bay is very unique, and due to its great accessibility to Sydney, Melbourne and South-East Queensland, it's compatible with a long weekend.

"I believe the visitors from these markets are still travelling further afield for their annual/bi-annual holiday and using destinations like Byron Bay for their shorter last minute getaways."

Mr Jones said there was no cause for concern yet and Destination Byron would be monitoring hotel demand this year along with defining the "ideal visitor" to help operators message the market more effectively.