FUTURE BUNDABERG: What Coffs and Bunbury have and we don't
WHAT is it about Bundaberg that makes us stand out? What makes people want to come here and not leave?
Well, to some surprise, the largest visited site in the Rum City is the Alexandra Park zoo.
Bundaberg mayor Jack Dempsey said even though the zoo was smaller than Mon Repos and the Bundaberg Rum Distillery it had more daily visits than the two combined.
He said it was the little things in life that were important but it was essential to focus on the area as a whole.
Bundaberg is the 26th largest urban centre in Australia.
It follows Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales coast and Bunbury, south of Perth in Western Australia.
Between 2012 and 2017 Bundaberg grew by one per cent to reach a population of 70,486.
During this time Australia's population grew by 8.2 per cent to reach a total of 24,597,528.
In 2017, Coffs Harbour's population was 70,868 after growing by 5.4 per cent in the five years and Bunbury at number 24 was 73,989, after an increase of six per cent since 2012.
Demographer Bernard Salt says an important comparison for any region looking to progress is to look at itself against similar-sized areas.
He urged a comparison between Bundaberg and Coffs Harbour and Bunbury to see if there were any obvious things they had which we didn't.
Bunbury is touted to be one of the fastest growing regional cities in Australia.
Situated less than two hours from Perth, it is linked by a large scale infrastructure project New Perth Bunbury Highway which has made the centre easily accessible to the capital, it is the commercial and residential heart of the booming south west region of Western Australia.
Major attractions include the Dolphin Discovery Centre and the Bunbury Wildlife Park.
The economy of Bunbury is diverse, reflecting the range of heavy and general industries in the locality, mining, agricultural landscapes, services for the growing population, key transport links and the influence of Perth.
The mining and mineral processing sector remains the main economic driver for Bunbury ($2 billion annual turnover).
While, like Bundaberg, the agriculture sector remains vitally important as the value of production is about $146 million a year (2005-06) which equates to about 30 per cent of the south west region's agricultural production.
Coffs Harbour is a city on the north coast of New South Wales.
It's known for its beaches and the Big Banana monument and amusement park - these are well known around Australia and help to draw in the tourists moving between the two eastern state capitals of NSW and Queensland.
In the waters off Coffs Harbour Marina is the Solitary Islands Marine Park, home to abundant wildlife, seasonal whales and coral reefs.
Coffs Harbour's economy was once based mainly on bananas, now being superseded by blueberries as well as tourism and fishing. The wider region is known as the banana coast.
The city has a campus of Southern Cross University, a public and a private hospital, several radio stations and three major shopping centres.
There are regular passenger flights each day to Sydney and Melbourne departing from Coffs Harbour Airport.
Both centres play up to their tourism advantages. It may be something Bundaberg should look at lifting its game in.
People say our region has five-star attractions, but a shortage of five-star accommodation.
With attractions including Bundaberg Rum, Mon Repos and the city is an important tourism gateway for inland national parks and the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef and resort islands.
Bundaberg is also home to beverage producer Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and craft beer brewery Bargara Brewing Company.
So what does Bundaberg need to do to improve as a tourism location?
When comparing us to Coffs Harbours and Bunbury tourism plays a big part of the economy in all three regions.
It is clear Coffs Harbour in particular has better high-end accommodation than our city.
Bundaberg Regional Council Deputy Mayor Bill Trevor and Bundaberg Tourism's Katherine Reid said the town was in desperate need of five-star rated accommodation.
Cr Trevor said a large group of "high-end" international visitors recently came to the region, but refused to stay the night because our accommodation could not meet their needs.
The NewsMail understands the group was used to luxury accommodation, something Bundaberg is clearly lacking.
Alowishus owner Tracey McPhee also feels the same, saying a great bolster to all businesses across Bundaberg would be to improve the accommodation.
"High-level or high-end short-term accommodation here in the CBD or five-star resort accommodation," she said.
She believes this is a missing part of the region and said by investing in it we would see long-term gains.
"That will keep our visitors here longer and the longer they are here the more money they will spend."