Whale of a time off Cairns
AS the region farewells a whale of a season for humpback and minke encounters, the importance of the gentle giants to the tourism industry is becoming apparent.
Reef Magic cruises, which began whale watching out of Cairns three years ago, has seen passenger numbers for the five-to-six-week season grow massively as knowledge of Cairns as a whale-watching destination has filtered out.
Since July 23, the company has taken 3500 people to see the annual migration of humpbacks.
And with this weekend still in the frame as the season winds down, a figure closing in on $400,000 in turnover is not out of the question.
Reef Magic's sales manager Jeff Cameron-Smith said while the season was short it provided an important niche market without impacting on the company’s core Reef trip business.
He said the vessel used for the tours was normally used for transfers and charters but did not operate every day.
"The boat is available and the whale watching allows us to keep it running," he said.
"It also allows cross marketing for our Reef trips and the social media element has been huge, we've even been getting bookings on Facebook.
"And it also helps us sell the destination at trade shows as it shows Cairns is one-stop (tourism) shop."
While the destination and many operators have benefited from spotting whales as they make their way to and from the Reef, there are other niche markets including sighting minke whales.
Mike Ball of Mike Ball Dive Expeditions said the six-week season for the smaller cetaceans boosted his business by about a third and was worth more than $100,000.
He said in a tough market, where he had reduced his own fleet and three of his competitors had stopped running in
recent years, niche markets that provided a point-of-difference were crucial.
"Another example is the Cod Hole and the Coral Sea shark feeds, which are year-round activities," Mr Ball said.
"If you are not creative your business could sink."
Like Reef Magic, Mr Ball said social media was playing an increasingly important role in marketing and that its immediacy and intimacy was providing "great" word-of-mouth advertising.
TTNQ boss Rob Giason said the development of niche markets such as whale watching, even if they were seasonal, was fantastic in itself.
"Obviously it is an activity that provides another dimension and experience that can be provided on the Reef," he said.
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Window of opportunity: Tourists aboard a Reef Magic Cruises boat enjoy watching the whales frolic off the Reef near Cairns.