Tough competition in tourism awards

OPERATORS and individuals who have made significant contributions to tourism in the State will be recognised at the annual Western Australian Tourism Awards tomorrow, Friday June 8.

There are 64 finalists in the 27 categories, which range from the prestigious Sir David Brand award to environmental tourism.

The newest award category to be added to the list is adventure tourism, with two operations making it into the finals – the Skydive Express Resort Skydiving Centre in Leederville, and the Geographe Bay Artificial Reef Society (Inc) from Busselton/Dunsborough.

Skydive Express general manager Krishna Strickland says she is extremely excited about her extreme sports business’ second foray into the finals.

After making it into the finals of the tourism development section of last year’s awards, Ms Strickland had more-than-enough motivation to be involved again this year.

“We firmly believe in the quality of our product and the service we offer and believe that it’s worthy of an award such as this,” Ms Strickland said.

Tourism makes up a significant part of the Skydive Express business, with clients coming from countries as far away as Germany, Japan and the US.

“Awards like this increase our status, profile and exposure to the tourists who come to Australia,” Ms Strickland said.

“We’re finding now that some people have heard of us even before they reach Australia, while they’re still at home, and that’s great.”

Ms Strickland said she believed there were many facets of the awards that proved beneficial to business.

“You don’t win any prizes, as such, but the publicity is good. More publicity is coming out of the awards now,” she said.

“Your peers recognise you within the industry for your achievements.

“It’s also good for our customers and potential customers to see we have won something like this, because it makes us more credible.”

Skydive Express started business just five years ago and has built itself into the largest operation of its kind in WA, outselling competitors who have been in the industry for 20 years. It now ranks as the seventh biggest operation in Australia.

“Ultimately, our goal would be to be the biggest in Australia and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere,” Ms Strickland said.

And there was great confidence in the potential for growth in the adventure tourism market, with Ms Strickland saying the business had attracted interest from more than simply extreme sports fanatics.

“It’s not just extreme people … it’s everyone, from housewives to doctors, secretaries to labourers, lawyers to teachers – everyone,” she said.

“We do get a lot of people who come in and say: ‘it’s my husband’s/wife’s 50th and I’d like to throw him/her out of a plane’.

“It’s amazing how many people are nervous about doing their first sky dive. But once they’ve done it they feel it is something they should have done along time ago. They say how great the sensation was and wonder why they didn’t do it sooner?”

John Jennings, from the Geographe Bay Artificial Reef Society (Inc), the second and only other finalist for the adventure tourism award, said he was delighted to have made it into the finals.

The Reef Society is a non-profit organisation that lobbied the State Government in 1994 for the relocation of the (then soon to be) decommissioned HMAS Swan.

The society was successful in its application, beating a dozen other organisations in the running, and sank the ex-navy destroyer on December 14 1997 to create an artificial reef and diving attraction.

Since the HMAS Swan went under, more than 30,000 divers have visited the attraction, and the latest studies have counted 85 species of fish on or around the vessel, along with a huge amount of coral growth.

“We’re thrilled because we’ve received very little recognition for six years of hard work,” Mr Jennings said.

“No-one had ever sunk an ex-Navy destroyer to use it as a dive wreck before, so there were lots of problems. It’s really great recognition for doing a really difficult and challenging job.”

Mr Jennings said that, along with the recognition that came with being a finalist, he hoped the nomination also would help boost tourism.

“It will get more recognition and hopefully bring more people to dive on the wreck,” he said.

“It’s also the spin-off of people who visit, needing to stay somewhere, and then they buy in the shops. It’s a win-win situation for everyone from around Dunsborough and Busselton, for the business people.

“We’re really looking forward to a positive outcome from the award.”

The society has set a precedent in sinking ex-destroyers, with plans under way for the HMAS Perth to be sunk in Albany in November to create a similar attraction to the HMAS Swan.

One of the great advantages of the diving wreck is its accessibility to divers of varying levels.

Mr Jennings said he believed adventure tourism would be a strong industry in the future.

“It’s more the extreme types of sports people who seem to be attracted to (the wreck),” he said.

“I think there’s great potential for adventure tourism and I think the wreck here has really proved it.”

Perth Zoo has made quite an impression this year, securing itself as a finalist in three categories, including tourism marketing & promotional campaigns, the Sir David Brand award and Sir David Brand youth metal, and being inducted into the hall of fame.

The Sir David Brand award for tourism is awarded to an organisation for an outstanding promotional achievement, or for servicing the WA tourism industry.

Perth Zoo chief executive officer Brian Easton said making the finals in three awards, as well as the hall of fame, was very significant.

“Perth Zoo is such a public place and is used by so many Perth families, so to be recognised publicly by way of these important awards is great,” Mr Easton said.

“It shows that, across no less than four categories of awards, we are also important for the tourism industry of WA.

“We’re essentially a conservation agency and yet, despite that, we are able to extend our role or function to be a place were people love to come a recreate and enjoy themselves.”

He said the boost the awards gave to staff morale – particularly as one of its keepers, Kylie Bullo, is a finalist in the Sir David Brand youth award – was momentous.

“Kylie is a wonderful young person and a great keeper. She’s so genuinely interested in what she does and interacts well with the visitors,” Mr Easton said.

“She’s very popular with the tourists.

“All the staff here really work so hard in all aspects of the zoo. To win an award really pumps them up.

“It’s the recognition from the public out there that makes them very proud.”

He said the recognition derived from the awards also would be used by the marketing staff in the zoo, who are also up for an award, to reach its full potential.

“The award means a lot to us in our marketing. We can show our public that we rate so highly against our competitors,” Mr Easton said.

He said the award signified to tourists and potential tourists that the Perth Zoo rated highly among the tourist attractions in Perth.

“In terms of tourism, Perth Zoo is increasingly becoming a ‘must see’ for overseas or interstate visitors because we are rated so highly on the international scene, as zoos go.”

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