A decade ago the Gold Coast was known for meter maids, schoolies and fish and chips on the beach. A lot has changed.
The southern Queensland tourist playground has been slowly and quietly changing its image. And now they want the rest of the country to know about it.
“It hasn’t just been an evolution, it’s been a revolution,” says Martin Winter, CEO of Gold Coast Tourism.
“The Gold Coast has really come of age. It has a sophisticated look to it now.”
Winter has been with Gold Coast Tourism for more than a decade. He’s due to retire from the post this year, sometime after the April Commonwealth Games.
Winter says everything from business, to tourism to food and wine has changed during his time on the Gold Coast.
That change is partly due to an influx of migrants from the southern states, and overseas, and also due to large amounts of investment, most recently on the back of the Commonwealth Games, he says.
Infrastructure investment such as the G-link light rail means that tourists and locals can move around the Gold Coast more easily.
The economy of the Gold Coast has diversified with huge investment in the health and education sectors. Gold Coast locals are looking for more diverse experiences – and that’s driving a renewed more sophisticated tourism sector.
Winter points to the luxury accommodation sector as the best example of the Gold Coast’s transformation. A decade ago, The Palazzo Versace at Main Beach was the Gold Coast’s only known luxury hotel. These days there’s a smattering of luxury accommodation up and down the coast.
“The Gold Coast has transformed itself in the accommodation space – now not only do we have incredible quality but we have it at affordable prices,” Winter says.
“Long gone are the days of coming to the Gold Coast and going to a motel. Today, we have all the big name brands and new developments such as the Star, the Sapphire, the Jewel – we are delivering a six-star experience for those people who want it.”
There’s no doubt the Gold Coast is in the midst of a culinary renaissance. Craft breweries are popping up in suburbs.
The most well-known is Balter at Burleigh Heads, co-owned by surfers Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. Black Hops brewery, also in Burleigh won three gold medals at the 2017 Australian International Beer Awards.
Winter says :”There’s 600 craft breweries around Australia and most are up here on the Gold Coast.”
The food scene has similarly transformed. At this year’s Good Food Awards, the Gold Coast raked in praise. Burleigh dining space Rick Shores, received one hat, as did neighbour The Fish House. Japanese restaurant Kiyomi at The Star retained its hat for the third year running and Broadbeach restaurants Social Eating House and Mamasan Kitchen & Bar also received high praise.
“When people come here from overseas or interstate we can offer more than fish and chips on the beach and a lot more than hamburgers in the park,” Winter says.
“We now have a diverse culinary experience that includes everything from artisan coffee roasters right through to some of the best restaurants in Australia.”
Culturally the Gold Coast has also seen a shift. A decade ago revellers packed into Surfers Paradise nightclubs. These days they’re more likely to hit the edgy Collective or Miami Marketta for food and live music. The Gold Coast now has Opera on the beach and the new Gold Coast Home of the Arts (HOTA) offers everything from classical music to art, film and theatre exhibitions.
“Of course beaches and family and entertainment are in our DNA, just as the theme parks are, but now there are also so many other more sophisticated experiences for people to fill out their days,” Winter says.
Last quarter the Gold Coast reported record tourism numbers – up 14 per cent on last year. It seems the rest of Australia may be catching on.