Latest news and insights from Australia’s airports

Double the passengers, double the fun at Whitsunday Coast Airport

There’s something fishy going on at the Whitsunday Coast Airport and passengers are loving it.

A giant 30,000-litre aquarium in the arrivals and departures lounge has become home to more than 100 reef fish.

The 10-metre-long tank boast four tonnes of moulded coral with a unique heart-shaped rock forming the centre piece.

The unique project, designed to showcase the region’s world-famous Great Barrier Reef attractions, aims to get visitors into holiday mode as soon as they disembark and give them a fond, final memory as they depart.

It’s part of a wider $15-million terminal upgrade at the council-owned airport that followed on from a $25 million full rebuild of the runway undertaken in 2017.

The upgrade came as passenger numbers doubled from 235,000 in 2013 to 470,000 in 2018, also triggering the need for an aviation rescue and fire service.

A related area of growth has been general aviation — there are now two operators providing tours out to the islands that have been lured from another airport.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth over the last five years,’’ observes Whitsunday Airport general manager Brian Joiner.

“It’s flattened out a bit over the last year but that seems to be indicative of tourism all over Australia at the moment.’’

The massive growth had exceeded the capacity of the existing terminal and the expansion was made possible through a grant from the Queensland Government.

The award-winning airport welcomes 28 flights a week operated by Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Tigerair Australia. This project was stage one of five that are part of a rolling masterplan for the development of terminal over the long term.

It included more than doubling the size of check-in and baggage reclaim areas.

A second baggage carousel was added, the departure lounge was increased, more toilets were added, as was additional food and beverage seating areas.

The security screening area was increased, mainly in response to new Federal Government requirements, and airport management offices were expanded and relocated.

At the same time, innovations such as solar panels have been introduced to help keep down costs, ensuring the growth is affordable and sustainable.

“That was the practical stuff and then we decided to refurbish the terminal as well,’’ Joiner says.

“We replaced all the carpet with an islands motif all the way through representing the coastline and islands. All the furniture was replaced. “

The airport also moved to a new advertising contractor and cleaned up the look of the terminal.

“There was advertising everywhere so we went to more electronic displays that just gave a better feel through the terminals,’’ Joiner says.

Then, notes the airport executive, came the funky stuff.

An augmented reality feature was installed in the baggage reclaim area to entertain and educate visitors with two experiences where people can project themselves into a reef environment or one featuring native animals.

“That’s been fantastic,’’ says Joiner. “The kids love it and they absolutely have a ball.”

But there’s no doubt the piece de resistance is the aquarium.

“We know we’re the first and last experience that people have on their holidays up here, so we wanted to make sure that was a good experience both ways,’’ Joiner says. “That’s been our guiding principle in doing up the terminal.

“And now we’ve had it up and running, it’s phenomenal to see the response we’re getting to it, it’s just amazing.

He says the changes are about creating a brand for the airport that fits in with the rest of the area, “The Whitsundays Experience”.

This is something that was taken into account throughout the terminal build and even a new security provider has been given a mandate to provide a professional security service while at the same time help people feel like they’re on holiday.

“It’s making the airport a bit of fun,’’ he says. “They don’t have to be grey, boring buildings full of just advertising — you can have some fun things about them too.

“I think a lot of the airports are starting to go down that path now.”

The new attractions provided the added benefit of being publicity generators as passengers take photos and post them on social media platforms such as Instagram.

Joiner notes the airport is one of the few in Australia facing genuine competition from nearby Hamilton Island and Mackay airports and it needs to differentiate itself.

“We have to use social media to our advantage, and we have to have something that people remember us by,’’ he says. “We want the kids going ‘We want to go back to that airport with the fish tank’.”

By Steve Creedy

About Steve Creedy

An award-winning journalist, Steve began covering aviation in the United States in the early nineties before returning to Australia later that decade and editing The Australian’s aviation section for 17 years. He is editor of Airline Ratings and has co-authored books on industry initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse emissions.

Steve has joined the AAA to write interesting and informative editorial on the aviation industry.


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