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Taking the terror out of the Pilbara

FIGURES released by the Pilbara Development Commission in its 2001 annual report show that tourism accounts for just 1.6 per cent of the local economy, while the macro industries of iron ore, oil and gas account for a whopping 89 per cent.

Despite this, Karratha Tourist Bureau manager Duncan Birt says the figure underrates the real value of the tourist dollar to the region, and he’s been busy during his 18-month tenure pointing out that tourism brings in tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars a year to the region

Visitors to the Karratha Visitors Centre totalled about 11,000 last year.

“When you compare tourism dollars with the overall economy of the region, taking into account the value of resources and associated spending, it seems tiny,” Mr Birt says.

“But if you include tourism spending as part of the local economy only, then it’s a far greater percentage than the official figures show.”

There’s also the issue of how tourists have been treated in the north-west in the past.

Even Roebourne Shire president Kevin Richards admits that: “we used to treat tourists like terrorists and honk them off the road”.

In the 1980s, local graffiti referred to tourists as terrorists and tourism operators often appeared in-different to the point of rudeness when dealing with tourists and travellers.

With the realisation that the tourist dollar is needed in an increasingly competitive world, attitudes are changing.

Tourist centres like the Karratha Visitors Centre are embracing sophisticated planning methods but, more importantly, tourists are being treated like valued customers.

And the tourism highlights for the Pilbara are many and varied, from great fishing to the spectacular gorges and snappy gum forests of the inland. Among the tourism options, indigenous tourism is the rising star.

The Karijini Visitors Centre, run by the traditional owners of the area, was officially opened by the WA Government last year and is the official gateway to the spectacular gorge country in the Karijini National Park.

While the health of the overall economy may depend for its long-term survival on the resources sector, industry operators are working hard at attracting big-spending tourists and travellers to the region.

The Pilbara is a unique place – there is no other region in Australia to compare it to and a visit won’t disappoint.

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