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Byron Shire
April 23, 2021

Byron told to buckle in for more visitors

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Traffic on Byron Bay’s main thoroughfare, Ewingsdale Road, could be set to get worse if day-visitor numbers increase as predicted.

Paul Bibby

The tide of day visitors flooding into Byron is set to increase significantly over the next decade, as the population of southeast QLD explodes and more cruise-ship passengers pour in, a tourism conference has heard.

And it is predicted that the Asian middle class will also begin to discover the Shire over the next five years, creating a noticeable shift in the tourist demographic.  

In a development that brought renewed calls for more paid parking and a car toll on Ewingsdale Road, Destination Byron’s annual tourism symposium heard that the Shire had 1.1 million domestic day visitors in the 12 months to June 2017 and was on track for similar numbers this year.

Jeremy Holmes, the development director at Elements of Byron, told the symposium that these numbers were likely to increase further as the population of the great south-east region – from Noosa to Tweed – grew over the next 30 years.

‘It is predicted that the population of that region will increase from 3.5 million to 5.8 million by 2046,’ Mr Holmes said during an address entitled Cautionary Travel Trends for Byron’s Tourism Industry.

‘That is one of the factors that is likely to contribute to an increase in domestic day visitors, which will in turn bring greater pressure on local infrastructure, particularly roads,’ he said.

Adding to the increase in day trippers, Mr Holmes said, was the expected growth of cruise-ship passengers coming into southeast QLD.

This was driven by the expanding cruise market and the construction of a new mega cruise-ship terminal at Luggage Point in Brisbane, which is due to open in 2020.

Silver lining

While the thought of more day trippers on local roads is enough to send a shiver down local spines, business development and marketing consultant Peter Valerio told the symposium that this group contributed more than just rubbish and traffic congestion.

‘Some people like to write domestic day visitors off, but they actually spend $100 per visit,’ said Mr Valerio during a presentation on the latest tourism statistics.

He also said that the people who drove down from Tweed Heads or the Gold Coast for the day were likely to come back for a longer stay during their holidays.

‘For them, Byron is close enough for a day trip but just far enough away to escape for a few days during the holidays,’ Mr Valerio said.

It was when these visitors elected to lay their heads locally that the money really started to roll in.

‘Domestic overnight visitors account for 70 per cent of total visitor expenditure in the region, while representing only 40 per cent of total visitor numbers,’ Mr Valerio said.

But the push to encourage visitors to stay longer and spend more appears to have borne little fruit.

‘There has been very little change in the number of nights that domestic visitors stay in Byron over quite a long period of time,’ he said.

‘If you’re looking to increase the length of stay by domestic visitors the only thing I can say is “good luck”. In 20 years of data it’s barely changed.’

Asian market

One group that is likely to bring more dollars into town is the expanding Asian middle class. The symposium heard that total annual outbound trips from China will increase by 300 per cent, which equates to one billion passenger trips per year, over the next 20 years.

So far the Northern Rivers has largely missed out on this market, with Chinese nationals accounting for just one per cent of travellers to the region.

However, David Jones, the director of sales and marketing Elements of Byron, said this was set to change.

‘The Asian markets are going to start visiting Byron Bay en masse in the next five to ten years owing to changing travel habits and displacement from urban centres,’ Mr Jones told the symposium.

‘Put simply, Sydney and Melbourne are full. Their tank is full and so the Asian market has got to disperse.’


Having chewed over the tourism stats and trends, the symposium turned its attention to the question of how to balance the needs of the tourist economy with those of the local community.  

One idea that gained traction among attendees was the introduction of a toll for tourists travelling by car into Byron Bay on Ewingsdale Road.

The chair of Tourism Noosa, Steve McPharlin, told the symposium that his town was considering introducing this measure at a number of tourist hot spots.

‘If you’ve got demand for something then make money from it – it’s Business 101,’ Mr McPharlin said.

But Byron Shire mayor Simon Richardson told the symposium he had reservations about introducing the measure in Byron.

‘My worry is that if we start saying to visitors: “We’re so special we’re going to charge you just to come into town,” that some people will turn around and say: “You know what? You’re not that special, I’m going to Lennox”,’ Cr Richardson said.

Cr Richardson said he believed expanding paid parking was a more effective way of generating income for community benefit from the tourism tide.

Paid parking

‘One of the reasons I support paid parking, whether it’s in Bangalow or Bruns or elsewhere, is that it’s not going to scare visitors away,’ he said.

‘The research is clear that it’s not until you get to $12 an hour for parking that you see a change in people’s behaviour in terms of where they choose to go. So why not have visitors leave behind an extra $10 for the day so that the place they’ve just visited can be left a little bit more beautiful?’

He also foreshadowed the creation of a ‘Better Byron fund’ – an investment fund derived from a levy on visitors and the visitor economy that could be used to support the local tourism industry and basic infrastructure.

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  1. This all points to saving the train corridor for trains or light rail – or trams the best way to move large numbers of people. plus save the rail land at Mullumbimby to cater for parking for an extension the Byron’s solar train.
    This is intimidate term solution – that make sense until the tourist dollars drive a full train service from Byron to the gold coast. lets start to think ahead.

    • There is no reason to expect a rail service from the Gold Coast connecting to the current corridor would have any significant impact on tourist traffic. Annualised the numbers of projected tourists on our area sound a lot but each day they are only a small percentage of our region’s populations. It will be a long time before we have local and visitor populations densities like the Gold Coast needed to support commuter rail, particularly as the greatest movements of people – even in and out of the Bay – are not a along the corridor (Ballina – Byron Bay has more traffic than any corridor route including most fly in tourists). The current Gold Coast rail service is useful for commuters and those who cannot drive but it only carries a relatively small proportion of visitors. Most prefer the lower cost and flexibility of using their own or rental cars, even those coming from Brisbane who have easy access tot he train. There is no reason travellers coming to our destinations from the Gold Coast airport would want to take a slow indirect trip by train through Murwillumbah when faster well patronised shuttle buses take them straight to their destinations and do so for a fraction of the per passenger cost that a rail service would cost them (or would cost the NSW Government if we chose to shift funding away from those who need transport to subsidising visiting tourist travel).

      The North Coast Regional Plan 2036 does not refer to the current Casino – Murwillumbah rail as there is not significant growth expected along that corridor and better public transport along it and around our region can be provided by road. The Plan does anticipate the need for a preserving land for a rail corridor down the Tweed Coast for the very long term when our population might warrant rail services. If the existing corridor is not used it will likely be sold off as an unproductive asset; funding a rail trail along the existing corridor provides a linear use that will protect it for future generations and in the meantime provide pleasure and healthful recreation to those who use it, and income for businesses and workers in our area.

  2. This is where the rail would come in handy if it could be hooked up to the Gold Coast tram system with a fast train .

  3. All talk for the tourist. Mean while the community renting are becoming homeless and displaced. Byron Bay is a dirty disgusting place that is full of tourist and unfortunately has spread like a desease along other small towns and communities along the coast. DIRTY SESS PIT!

  4. With traffic congestion only set to increase, the smart money is to re-open the rail line for trains or trams. This would be far cheaper than building more roads, and also reduce the pressure on local roads. The use of trains such as the solar train would bring Byron much closer to their zero emissions targets too.

    • Gary Reopening the rail line that would not make any significant shift from private car to public transport ; the Arup report found better timetabled buses would reduce car use more than a commuter train service would.. Over 80% of public transport users in our area are over 65; the rail line serves a younger population, more likely to own cars and which uses existing public transport markedly less than those on the transport corridors in and out of Ballina and Tweed Heads. It is Transport 101 that additional use of buses reduces far more traffic on roads than they add. Better buses would not require any new roads to be built. whereas the only published estimate – and the only one that considered the specific issues relating to restoring the Northern Rivers rail – found that it would cost close to a billion dollars, to which you would need to add as much again to connect to the QLD rail. You would still have tourists coming from Brisbane or its airport having to change trains and the journey would cost them or government two or three times what shuttle buses charge.

      I cannot see what is smart about paying billions to put in place a more expensive transport service that does nothing a bus cannot do better . If you want to have emissions free transport why not fund the electric powered buses like those the ACT has bought Those buses can be charged with emissions-free electricity and run all day – not just for a thirty minute return trip.


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