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Grant Wilckens is Founder and CEO The G’Day Group / Discovery Parks, with the group owning 250 properties around Australia and about 40 in WA. He makes a case for opening up the Kimberley to new tourism markets and for extended periods by making the case for increased WA Government investment in infrastructure in the region, in particular a bridge across the King River.

Operators in this area of Australia have suffered from two years of hardship due to COVID-19 heart breaks and east coast lockdowns and cancellations, and a bridge is critical for tourism in the region to survive.

This reality should be of genuine concern to key WA Government decision makers, and greater foresight and long-term vision applied to a solution which has the potential to make a real difference to the Kimberley tourism economy. The Kimberley is one of the country’s most spectacular outback regions and a bucket list destination for many Aussie travellers as it is one of Australia’s last true frontiers.

The Western Australian Government is investing more than $330m in road upgrades through the Kimberley including the Great Northern Highway and Gibb River Road.

It’s an important strategy for connecting this isolated region to the rest of the state and opening up travel to road trippers. The plans include upgrade and sealing of key sections of road west and east, and improving the standard of gravel roadways, floodways and river crossings.

While the investment and upgrades are much needed and are sure to improve ease of travel in the region, there is one key opportunity being missed in the current plans that has the potential to make significant difference to tourism operators and the regional economy.

This missed opportunity is a bridge over the King River.

The limitations of crossing the King River are a major entry barrier to the region. It relies on a certain type of vehicle to ford the river, greatly affected by seasonal weather, and limits accessibility to remote tourist attractions.

A bridge has the potential to significantly benefit and improve Kimberley tourism through:

  • Extending the tourism season by making the Kimberley accessible during the wet.
  • Enabling access to the area for two-wheel drive vehicles, opening the region up to new markets.
  • Boosting the number of tourists visiting the northern Kimberley, improving the regional tourism economy.

WA Minister for Transport, Hon Rita Saffioti MLA says that bridges, in particular a bridge for crossing the King River, are not included in any forward plans.

In the case of the G’Day Group, owners and operators of El Questro, cancelled accommodation bookings are in excess of $1.5 million this year alone. This figure doesn’t account for food and beverage or touring revenue.

Remember that for every dollar spent on regional accommodation, nearly $2 is generated for the local economy. For this reason, these losses are being felt throughout the region and operators need the WA State Government support to drive more tourists into the region for a longer period of the year.