How new tourist attractions can boost Brisbane’s visitor economy
Merlin Entertainments is the leading operator of visitor attractions in Australia and New Zealand and the second-largest operator worldwide, with more than 130 attractions globally.
Rob Smith, Asia Pacific Head of Merlin Entertainments Group, says the time is right for Brisbane to create a signature attraction of its own.
When it comes to visitor attractions, the truth is that Brisbane has some room for improvement.
When I say ‘attractions’, I’m not talking about natural attractions — I’m talking about location-based family leisure activities, often ones that are related to a particular intellectual property. Our brands at Merlin Entertainments Group, for instance, include LEGOLAND, SEA LIFE and Madame Tussauds.
Of course, there are popular mainstays on the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast, but in Brisbane itself, I think it’s fair to say there is a lack of quality attractions.
Sydney and Melbourne certainly have more attractions than Brisbane at the moment, and to a degree, that’s only natural. They’re bigger cities with bigger populations. The reality is that Brisbane is the smallest of the three markets, and has the smallest tourist market, both from a domestic and international perspective. But the city is growing — and with a range of new hotels, a new runway set to open at Brisbane Airport, and the possibilities offered by the Queen’s Wharf precinct redevelopment, Brisbane has the potential to be a major player in the leisure space.
Why Brisbane needs more visitor attractions
The more attractions you have in your city, and the broader the range, the more reasons people will have to visit. Rather than coming to Brisbane for a day or two, a great visitor attraction might persuade someone to stay for three or four days, because they’ll have more to do. The benefits of visitors staying in Brisbane longer are obvious — it means they’ll extend their hotel stays, go to more restaurants, and spend more money in-market.
At the moment, I think people are using Brisbane as an entry point. They’re flying into Brisbane, using the airport as an initial transport hub, and then they’re travelling to the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast. The focus, from Brisbane City’s perspective, has to be on getting people to stay in Brisbane for a bit longer before they move on to one of those other destinations.
It’s not just about tourists, either. A great visitor attraction can help bring a city to life. It can tell the city’s story, and inspire visitors and locals alike. When you’ve got new experiences coming into a city, I think it refreshes and re-energises everyone there.
The trend we tend to see when a new attraction opens in a market is that locals make up a very high percentage of the visitors for the first six to twelve months. Everyone wants to go there because it’s the new place to go. Once the locals have been there and the positive word starts to spread, that tends to draw more people in.
The local market usually starts to fall after the first year, and then it’s replaced by the tourist market — that might be domestic or international.
If you build it, will they come?
Merlin opens between five to 10 new attractions each year around the world, and we’re always looking for new opportunities.
In terms of Brisbane’s viability as a location for a major visitor attraction, the work that Brisbane Marketing has been doing to proactively promote the city and drive investors into the market is a great starting point.
But for a brand like Merlin to consider bringing one of our brands to Brisbane — say, for example, an indoor attraction like a LEGOLAND Discovery Centre — you need to have the space available for that type of attraction.
That’s why it’s important for the private and public sector to work closely together to make sure the space is available on the right commercial terms, and to ensure the transport infrastructure is strong, whether it’s car parking facilities at the location or public transport to the location.
You can’t just open an attraction and expect people to appear — you’ve got to have the infrastructure around that location to make it work. That requires attraction operators, transport providers, retailers and food and beverage operators to work together. The more they can do that, the more likely it is that you can bring a major attraction into the market.
I think major attractions will open in Brisbane, ultimately, because consumers want it to happen. As disposable incomes rise around the world, there’s a growing demand for leisure. People are looking for shared experiences they can enjoy with their family and friends.
The consumer demand is there, and the willingness from investors is there. Now it’s just a case of making sure everyone is working together to identify the best locations for these attractions to open in.
When they do, the benefits to the Brisbane visitor economy will be clear.