Reef Tourism: An analysis of the competitiveness of the Great Barrier Reef as a tourist destination

One of the key ways to ensure the sustainability of a tourism destination is to measure and build its competitiveness. Success is achieved when the destination is able to achieve the highest level of well-being for its residents on a sustainable basis (Ritchie and Crouch 2000). Destinations that do not evaluate themselves and their competitors will often encounter difficulties in the long run as markets change and the demand for destination goods and services evolves under the influence of technology and changing consumer preferences. One example of this failure is the emergence of a product gap where the tourism goods and services supplied do not appeal to an increasingly larger segment of the destination’s tourism market. To remain competitive, destinations need to be constantly on the lookout for new ideas, changes in existing trends, new market sectors and, importantly, have a contemporary knowledge of developments in the destinations that are their main competitors. In this report, we examine the competitiveness of the Great Barrier Reef in the region that encompasses Tropical North Queensland (Port Douglas, Cairns and Townsville).

An assessment of the data presented here indicates that visitors to the Great Barrier Reef leave with a high level of satisfaction indicating that at one level the destination is competitive both nationally and internationally. However, the degree of competitiveness is not clear particularly for international visitors who are able to visit competing reefs closer to home. Here a cost advantage of low travel costs to closer reefs may reduce the overall competitiveness of the Great Barrier Reef. Moreover, it is not clear from the content analysis that the Reef enjoys a comparative advantage over its competitors. This may stem from the Reef not having an image that is as appealing as its competitors particularly in the Caribbean. Assessing comparative advantage will require additional data collected over a longer time period.

In the future it is possible that the strict enforcement of policies to protect the reef will give the Great Barrier Reef a comparative advantage over non-protected reefs. As non-protected reefs continue to decline in quality images of a more pristine reef, together with other images of the Great Barrier Reef experience including indulgence and other activities may allow the Reef to develop a comparative advantage over competing reefs.