Coast debates high stakes gamble
BILLIONAIRE Clive Palmer is being asked to take a gamble for tourism by building a casino at his luxury Coolum resort.
The maverick mining magnate might have retreated yesterday from apparent plans for "a mini Las Vegas" on the Sunshine Coast, but there is already a growing chorus in support of a revitalised tourism industry.
A Palmer-brand casino to attract rich Asians to holiday in the region is a perfect goal in the eyes of Sunshine Coast Destination CEO Steve Cooper.
"In this very, very fierce environment, Queensland just can't sit on its hands. It has to look at new ways to become competitive and meaningful to its new markets," Mr Cooper said.
"Asia is at the top of its list of priorities."
Mr Palmer baffled many yesterday when he released a statement declaring a casino was not the answer to boost tourism on the Coast.
He made the statement despite admitting he had trademarked the name Coolum Casino and bought the domain coolumcasino.com.au last month.
Mr Palmer claimed the move to secure the trademark and domain were "simply to stop other tourism operators from doing so in the future".
He said he wasn't preparing to build a casino at the resort, which he bought last year, and hadn't spoken about it with members of the newly-elected Newman Government.
Mr Palmer snapped up rights to the name Coolum Casino after he removed Hyatt as manager of the resort and renamed it Coolum Resort and Spa.
Mr Cooper said the Coast's strength had always been "doing the home-grown things very well" and the region was popular for
families as a safe, clean and environmentally-friendly holiday area.
He said those strengths would not change but a new era had to begin.
"In tough times you've got to revitalise your products and services and be relevant to your markets," he said.
"It's no secret that there is a policy for Queensland to be the first China-ready state in Australia.
"So it would be inappropriate for the Sunshine Coast to sit on the sidelines."
Last year the number of international visitors to the Coast dropped by 14%.
Mr Cooper said the Asian tourism for the state was expected to grow as much as 17% over the next three years.
He encouraged fierce debate about the proposal of a casino for the Coast.
He stressed a "boutique-style" would be most likely to win the support it needed from residents.
"No doubt this will have its supporters and an equal number of detractors," he said.
"But the notion of a boutique-style casino within the confines of the (Coolum resort) tourism precinct accords well with market potential.
"And there's no doubt that there's a spillover effect as more and more international visitors put the Sunshine Coast on their radar. That can only be a positive thing going forward."
Mr Palmer said he had not spoken with "any authorities or the Queensland Government" about building a casino.
"I do not believe a casino would be the answer to boosting tourism on the Sunshine Coast," he said.
"A much broader strategy is needed.
"A casino could also have a detrimental social impact on the Sunshine Coast."
Mr Cooper said: "Done in an appropriate manner that accords with the Sunshine Coast lifestyle and planning regimes, this would be a positive contribution to the future of our industry."
He said the tourism industry was struggling and needed to be revitalised quickly.
Clive Palmer took a trademark on the name Coolum Casino on the day before the state election.
It includes several classes of goods and services, covering everything from gaming facilities, stage productions and musical shows, cabarets, nightclubs and conventions right down to specific items such as branded playing cards.
"It is true that one of my companies has registered a trademark for the name Coolum Casino ... but this is simply to stop other tourism operators from doing so in the future," Mr Palmer said.
"In tough times you've got to revitalise your products and services and be relevant to your markets."