How Gold Coast’s new tourism chief plans to follow Townsville’s playbook

A recovery plan ripped from north Queensland’s post flooding and natural disaster playbook will be used to revive the Gold Coast’s crisis-struck tourism economy, according to the Gold Coast’s new tourism boss.

Nov 24, 2020, updated Nov 24, 2020
New Destination Gold Coast chief executive Patricia O’Callaghan.

New Destination Gold Coast chief executive Patricia O’Callaghan.

Destination Gold Coast on Monday appointed Patricia O’Callaghan as new CEO after former chief Annaliese Battista quit the Gold Coast’s primary tourism body suddenly in August.

O’Callaghan has been CEO of Townsville Enterprise since 2015, where she was responsible for helping create jobs, economic growth, and infrastructure investment for the region.

O’Callaghan said the lifeline for the Gold Coast’s resurgence would be based on the formula for economic recovery and renewal following the catastrophic monsoon and flood event that devastated Townsville in 2019.

Along with the destruction of thousands of homes, the Townsville floods laid waste to hundreds of businesses causing an unprecedented economic toll on a region already suffering in the wake of the mining downturn.

O’Callaghan said the economic recovery for the Gold Coast, which has suffered massive losses to the $6 billion tourism industry as a result of COVID-19 and pandemic restrictions, required a joint effort and could not be achieved through just one organisation.

“(The Gold Coast) is the leading tourism destination in Australia and obviously they’ve been hurt significantly because of COVID, so I think there is some very big recovery plans that will need to be put in place,” O’Callaghan said.

“It’s going to be using the same formula used in North Queensland.

“It won’t be one individual body that can achieve that. It’s going to be by working together.”

O’Callaghan’s appointment comes after Gold Coast tourism and business chiefs were blindsided by Batista’s sudden departure in August, forcing Destination Gold Coast chairman Paul Donovan to step back into a more hands-on operational role to ensure the city captured the lion’s share of Queensland travellers during state border lockdowns.

Donovan said more than 300 applicants had vied for Gold Coast’s top tourism job during the four-month CEO search, with O’Callaghan chosen to take up the reins in February.

O’Callaghan said new and revitalised attractions were key to attracting visitors back to the city, but so was a collaborative approach to drive the economic recovery that included the tourism body working with Mayor Tom Tate, state and federal governments and local business chiefs.

The “ team Gold Coast” approach will be a point of difference for O’Callaghan’s leadership compared to Battista who was highly critical of government handling of border closures during the pandemic. Battista also fell foul of Tate during the economic crunch of COVID, leading to a refusal by Councill to deliver more funding for the marketing body in its 2021 COVID budget.

O’Callaghan said she believed there were opportunities to help the Gold Coast emerge from the crisis even stronger than before.

“Welcoming as many Australians as possible to the Gold Coast now and into the immediate future is critical,” she said.

“We will also ensure there is a sharp focus on the continued development of experiences and infrastructure investment to optimise the benefits for our city’s businesses, residents, workers and other key stakeholders.

“I am aware of the immediate challenges and support the current plans of monitoring, reassessment and agility required to market the Gold Coast.”

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