17/09/2008 - 22:00

Unlocking the Pilbara’s potential

17/09/2008 - 22:00

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WHILE the Pilbara may be the centre of the state's resources industry, developers are also realising the region's tourism potential with a number of hotel developments planned over the coming years.

WHILE the Pilbara may be the centre of the state's resources industry, developers are also realising the region's tourism potential with a number of hotel developments planned over the coming years.

Queensland-based Witt Property Group, headed by experienced property developer Warren Witt, has made its entry into the Western Australian market with a proposed $90 million resort at Point Samson.

The group is looking to transform the small fishing town, located 30 minutes drive north of Karratha on the Pilbara coast, into a tourist destination in its own right.

The proposed $90 million Ziva Spa Resort will include 112 units with a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, as well as a restaurant, day spa, gym, and recreational facilities.

Witt Property Group director Shelly Brushett said the area needed more tourist accommodation, and had been advised that the coach market was bypassing the area because of the lack of available accommodation, while one of the caravan parks in the area currently has a one-year waiting list for a caravan site.

"It's a beautiful site. We look for sites that are destination resorts that will benchmark the area; we feel this development is going to provide the opportunity to establish Point Samson as a tourism destination in its own right," Ms Brushett said.

The proposal isn't expected to come before the Shire of Roebourne until next month, but already some of the locals have voiced their opposition to the development in its current form. They believe the influx of tourists will put pressure on local infrastructure already being squeezed by the mining boom.

Ms Brushett said the company had tried to allay the community's concerns, conducting extensive consultation with the community and the shire.

The company says it will donate $400,000 to a community fund to help improve community infrastructure, including boat ramps, tourism facilities and roads.

"We're very aware and sensitive to the surrounding environment. We want to improve and develop the area," Ms Brushett said.

Shire of Roebourne president Brad Snell said meeting the accommodation needs of tourists in a community already under pressure to accommodate the influx of mining workers was a delicate balancing act.

"We know there's a horrific accommodation shortage in the area, and we have to balance alleviating the accommodation shortage while making sure we're in step with the community's designs," Mr Snell told WA Business News.

"The town has gone through very rapid growth. What we want to do is make sure, if possible, we get the best of both worlds.

"We encourage people with development plans but make sure it's not detrimental to the people who live in these places already."

Mr Snell said hotel accommodation in Karratha was "as rare as hen's teeth in the winter", with many of the hotels, motels, tourist parks and caravan parks hosting temporary workers.

"We've got some great attractions; the Dampier Archipelago, we're en route to Karijini. If we can give tourists somewhere to stay...we need to encourage that," he said.

Tourist numbers to the Pilbara have increased in recent years, fuelled by the increase in population associated with the mining boom and the growing number of flights from Perth and interstate.

The region receives on average about 316,000 overnight visitors a year, with intrastate visitors making up the bulk of the numbers.

Just over half of the visitors to the region come for business, about 56 per cent, with about a quarter for holiday or leisure.

Until recently, most of the accommodation was caravan and tourist parks, hotel, motel and chalet-style accommodation.

The opening of the Karijini Eco Retreat in April 2007 bought a new, high-end tourism product to the region, offering camping style accommodation with a few extra luxuries and mod cons.

But the number of mining workers being housed in tourist accommodation remains an issue, with hotel occupancies in the region sitting at more than 90 per cent all year round.

Among the other new developments for the region is Rapley Wilkinson's $100 million Ranges Resort in Karratha, which will be built on the site of a former drive-in.

The resort will consist of 148 strata-titled services apartments, with a combination of one- and two-bedroom units, and amenities including a pool, gym and onsite shop.

Sydney-based Vicon Properties is planning two five-star, mixed use residential and short-stay developments in Karratha, providing tourist accommodation.

The $70 million Balmoral apartment development, which recently gained council approval, is an eight-storey development in the town centre, with a quarter to be used for residential and remainder tourist and short stay markets.

The development will also incorporate some commercial and retail space.

Vicon's second project, the $60 million addition to the iconic Tambrey centre, is a four-storey development catering for both the residential, short-stay and tourist market.

Vicon director Niall Conlon said the Tambrey development would start construction in November, with construction of the Balmoral to start in December.

He said construction would follow a modular style, with most of the work to be done in Perth and transported up north, minimising the labour requirement in an already tight market.

"We're expecting a 12- to 15-month construction period," Mr Conlon said.

Mining hospitality and accommodation provider Auzcorp was recently announced as the preferred developer of a $45 million, 136-room hotel in Tom Price, the Karijini Gateway Resort.

This month, the company will find out whether it can proceed with the expansion of its Mia Mia House in the Desert resort in Newman, increasing the number of hotel rooms from 49 to 89.

Further north, in Port Hedland, Mirvac is still waiting to push the button on its four-star hotel $100 million hotel and residential development, almost a year after been selected as the preferred proponent for the development by LandCorp.

The developers are currently in discussion with the Town of Port Hedland over "technical issues" involving the ancillary accommodation component.

Town of Port Hedland chief executive Chris Adams was confident the project would proceed, and was waiting on advice from the state government.

Also under way are much-needed upgrades to a number of region's airports as the number of charter, fly-in, fly-out and commercial flights increases.

Work is currently under way to extend the runway at Karratha Airport as part of a $21 million project.

The runway extension will allow airlines to fill flights and not be restricted by weight requirements of the runways, as has previously been the case.

This could potentially open the door for more flights and larger aircraft on the Perth-Karratha service, and increase the likelihood of direct flights between Karratha and other interstate destinations such as Melbourne or Sydney.

The Newman airport is also undergoing an extensive upgrade, including the construction of a new terminal.

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