Almost half of all foreign visitors go to the North Coast
ALMOST half the international visitors to regional New South Wales last year came to the North Coast, cementing the sun-kissed shoreline's status as the state's biggest regional drawcard.
New Destination NSW data reveal the North Coast hosted 295,000 international overnight sightseers in the 12 months to December 2015, an 8% increase on the previous year.
Visitors spent more than 3.1 million nights in the region, adding 5.9% to 2014's figures.
Regional NSW as a whole received 689,700 visitors who stayed 14 million nights in the state and spent $914 million, according to Destination NSW.
And the North Coast's state-topping figures developed alongside NSW retaining its rank as Australia's most popular state for tourists.
Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said the whole state benefited from regional NSW's thriving visitor economy.
"Best of all these figures represent an increase on the previous year ended December 2014, with regional NSW experiencing 8.5% more visitors, 15.1% more nights and 30.2% more visitor expenditure," he said.
"The international appeal of regional NSW destinations including Byron Bay on the North Coast and the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains have encouraged significant growth in international visitor numbers, with the unspoilt South Coast and famed wine producing Riverina region also recording growth from international markets."
Last year's upswing was evident in Yamba, where Pacific Hotel manager Tom McIntosh had no complaints about visitor numbers.
Better yet, he said 2016 was proving even stronger.
"2015 was a good year as well, but our accommodation is definitely up from last year," he said.
"We've noticed a lot more people up here."
Further north in Ballina, Mayor David Wright had feared a number of shark attacks towards the end of last year would scare both domestic and international visitors away.
So he began a media blitz in areas like Sydney and the Gold Coast to try to shore up tourism numbers.
It paid off.
"I was really worried we would have a huge downturn in visitor numbers, but it didn't happen," Cr Wright said.
"Certainly, there were not as many people at the beaches, but there is so much more here and people can see that.
"But hopefully the barriers will fix that."
Shark barriers are to be installed at Ballina and Lennox Head in the coming months, making them the only barrier-protected beaches in the state.
Destination NSW chief executive officer Sandra Chipchase CORRECT said regional NSW's natural beauty was its greatest tourism asset.
"From pristine beaches to snowfields, and rainforests to the awe-inspiring Outback, NSW is Australia's most geographically diverse state and offers international visitors an experience like no other," she said.
"Combine that with a world-class calendar of regional events and you have the complete visitor experience." -ARM NEWSDESK