With its world-heritage listed status, pristine beaches and marine showstoppers like swimming with whale sharks, the Ningaloo Coast is arguably one of the unsung heroes of the WA tourism sector, generating 1000 jobs and injecting $110 million into the economy last year alone.
A Deloitte Access Economic study, commissioned by the State Government and released last week, found about 218,000 people visited the Ningaloo Coast, spent about 1.3 million nights and went on 61,000 day trips in 2018-19.
A quarter of all visitors were international, and each tourist spent an average of $137 a day.
The Ningaloo economic hub is made up of 90 per cent tourism, with the remaining 10 per cent including commercial fishing, recreational activities, scientific research and reef management.
The study is part of the Resilient Reefs Initiative, which includes organisations such as the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, UNESCO Work Heritage Marine Programme and Columbia University’s Centre for Resilient Cities and Landscapes.
Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said COVID-19 had challenged the Ningaloo communities such as Coral Bay and Exmouth, and their reliance on the tourism dollar, but he believed things were slowly returning to normal.
He said the study would help guide government decision-making and management for the area and “make it more resilient to any future challenges”.
A spokesperson for Australia’s Coral Coast said the report would have many flow-on benefits.
“It cements the importance of tourism to the region, and provides support to marketing initiatives, management plans and funding and development,” they said.
The spokesperson said tourism was critical to the towns along the Coral Coast, and sustainable and eco-tourism were becoming increasingly important.
“In this sense, increasing the conservation and recreation reserve will likely have a positive impact for the tourism industry,” they said.