Tourists to jet in to the South West

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times
A planned $60 million Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport expansion has stalled, but could take off soon.
Camera IconA planned $60 million Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport expansion has stalled, but could take off soon. Credit: Graphic / South Western Times

Direct flights between Melbourne and Busselton have been labelled a “game changer” for the South West and could cement Bunbury as a hub for visitors in a tourism boom for the region.

While passengers would be hitting the tarmac further south, the economic boost to the Bunbury Geographe region would be huge, according to industry experts.

The planned $60 million Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport expansion has stalled for several years but in a major milestone for the project, Busselton Mayor Grant Henley this week said a contract with an airline was likely to be finalised in coming months.

Mr Henley said flights between Melbourne could start within the next six to nine months, but it would also pave the way for direct routes from Sydney and international flights from Singapore.

Australia’s South West says it would power a new tourism boom for the region, with domestic and international visitors flocking in record numbers to take in the South West’s natural attractions and wineries without the need to travel via Perth.

As the new-look Dolphin Discovery Centre continues to make its mark on the tourist scene and with major projects like an artificial surfing reef in Bunbury planned for later this year, Bunbury Mayor Gary Brennan said the city was poised to take full advantage.

“There’s all those attractions, as well as the Ferguson Valley but for us, the Dolphin Discovery Centre is becoming known internationally,” Mr Brennan said.

“We’ve got the beaches, hopefully the artificial surf AIRWAVE project trial will prove to be successful – but apart from that, we’ve got world-class restaurants in our city.

“Bunbury can be a hub – and is a hub – for national and international visitors to journey away from here and you’ve got some exciting places to go, not only within the Bunbury Geographe area, but also within the greater South West.

“It’s very exciting ... It’s something they’ve (City of Busselton) been working very hard to secure for some years now and it will bring immediate benefits to the entire South West.”

“You add in the Ferguson Valley, the Harvey and Preston valleys, really excellent wineries and experiences that we can offer here, plus the cultural attractions through the regional art gallery, great entertainment through the regional entertainment centre, you’ve got it all.

Bunbury Geographe Tourism Partnership acting tourism marketing and development manager Michelle McCully said the flights would provide big benefits and it was vital for the industry to be trade ready.

“We are continually working with our partners, Australia’s South West and the South West Development Commission, to assist our tourism operators to be trade ready and capitalise on opportunities,” Ms McCully said.

“Jetstar is one of the main players in the tourism industry – the marketing awareness generated by their presence in the region would be enormous.”

It is understood Jetstar is most likely to snap up the Busselton route.

A signed deal with an airline would unlock about $13 million in State Government funding for a new terminal.

WA Nationals MP Terry Redman said domestic and possible international flights were a game changer for the region.

“It has been predicted that providing visitors a direct gateway into one of WA’s top tourism destinations would pump an extra $11.4 million into the South West economy per year,” he said.

With earthworks and planning already done, a new terminal could be built in about seven months.

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