SPECIAL REPORT: The upgrade of the Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport promises to be a game-changer for the South West.
The upgrade of the Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport promises to be a game-changer for the South West.
Tourism operators are gearing up to capitalise on a surge of new visitors to the South West, as work progresses on a $70 million expansion of the Busselton-Margaret River Regional Airport.
But the airport upgrade isn’t just about bringing visitors in – it also promises to open new export markets for South West agribusinesses.
Work began early last month on the redevelopment of the airport, which will give it the capacity to handle Airbus A320 and Boeing 737 aircraft – aeroplanes capable of cross-country flights.
While routes and the exact frequency of flights, as well as airlines servicing the region, are yet to be finalised, the initial plan is to run three flights each week to Melbourne and two each week to Sydney.
In coming years, international markets such as Singapore and Indonesia will also be targeted, not only for international passengers but also freight opportunities.
“The Busselton-Margaret River Airport won’t have any of the traditional fly-in, fly-out elements, so we have to support it in other ways, and that’s got to be leisure and agriculture,” Tourism Western Australia chief executive Gwyn Dolphin said.
“The simple ease to be able to fly from the east coast into Busselton, and essentially be in the heart of Margaret River half an hour later, that’s a big difference from having to fly into Perth and drive three hours.
“It’s a significant change in terms of the accessibility of the region from a domestic audience.”
Along with the airport, there is a growing list of major tourism-related developments under way.
Busselton’s foreshore is in the process of being redeveloped, with a long-term ambition of developing four- and five-star hotels along the beach.
A works program worth $10.5 million planned for this year includes the construction of a restaurant-microbrewery and function centre, a new playground for toddlers, and sports pavilion.
Further north, Bunbury’s waterfront is also in line for an upgrade, while $12.3 million will be spent upgrading the city’s Dolphin Discovery Centre.
In Margaret River, enhancements are expected for the main street next year, following the completion of the Margaret River perimeter road.
Palmers Wines founder Stephen Palmer drew a parallel between the wave of development down south to what happened in Broome in 2003, when Qantas began its first direct Melbourne-to-Broome services.
“Once those flights coming in from Melbourne happened, all of a sudden you have all of these excursions and places and things to go to,” Mr Palmer said.
“That came off the back of that, and I think Margaret River will be the same.”
Mr Palmer is backing the growth of the region in a big way, with a $10 million plan to create a new tourism and agribusiness precinct at Carbanup River, 20 kilometres west of Busselton.
The Carbanup River plan comprises a boutique hotel of around 40 rooms, a winery and restaurant, a fragrance and flavour centre, a fresh food market and an artisans’ village.
Mr Palmer said the operation would mimic similar types of tourist facilities in the south of France, where visitors can customise scents, sample premium wines from the region, or pick up a small memento of their holiday.
“It’s effectively a collection of all of our agricultural pursuits and joint ventures,” Mr Palmer told Business News.
“We’re consolidating it all on one property, which involves our restaurant activities, our winemaking activities, and a joint venture with a long-term friend of mine in Stephen Birkbeck, who has done a lot of work in the fragrance and perfume industry.
“We’re also working with Manuka honey and a lot of new value-adding type agribusinesses to take advantage of this new arrangement with freight coming out of Busselton.”
Mr Palmer said he was aiming for Carbanup River proposal to be ready at the same time as the opening of the airport, pending relevant development approvals.
“It’s really a game-changer as far as produce is concerned, and the opportunity to open up some good markets export-wise,” he said.
However, while he estimated the development would generate up to 185 full-time job equivalents, he said he had even bigger plans for the South West.
“We’ll have another proper resort to announce soon, we have a very good operator, one of the best in the world,” Mr Palmer said.
“As soon as I finish the project in Perth, On the Point, in the next few months, we’ll be focusing on that.”