Noosa: the great irony

Listen to Tony Wellington discuss Noosa and over-tourism with ABC radio’s Alex Easton.

The great irony for tourism destinations goes like this: the more you make a place wonderful, both to live and visit, the more you attract people that will ultimately undermine the very qualities that make the location so appealing. Noosa isn’t alone here. On a bigger scale, the same process is occurring everywhere from Barcelona to Yosemite National Park. This begs the question, is it possible to create a tourism destination that maintains its uniqueness, or are all such destinations fated to be homogenised in the big tourism slow cooker? Many hotspots are grappling with this problem, as tourism plays havoc with their local ambience, natural environment and resident amenity.

Some years ago, the Netherlands stopped promoting inbound travel altogether to stem what was already dubbed over-tourism. This year, Amsterdam even ran a “Stay Away” campaign to actively discourage tourists, particularly heavy drinkers from Britain. Italy’s Cinque Terre attempted to reduce tourist numbers by stopping access once they reached 1.5 million visitors in a year (at the time they were copping more than 2.5 million). Access to some of the Cinque Terre trails still requires purchase of permit cards. And I’m sure all readers will be familiar with the problem facing Venice, where short stay accommodation, cruise ships and tour companies have muscled out locals and tourist overcrowding has become the norm.

There has been a mass of international research that clearly shows increased tourism numbers does not equate with increased revenue for local economies. What happens when places become very crowded is that they simply attract a different sort of visitor – generally one who has little regard for the local culture, visits briefly, simply wants to tick the destination off their list, and spends no more than the price of a gelato and tacky memento.

For some years leading up to the Covid era, Tourism Noosa spent none of its advertising budget on drive-in and single-day tourists. Instead, it had an explicit “value over volume” approach that focussed entirely on high-yield, longer-stay tourists, particularly those from Sydney, Melbourne and overseas. But Covid saw tourism and business operators panic. The new approach, according to one of Tourism Noosa’s own strategy documents, is to “reimagine our Tourism Strategy, and subsequent actions, to ensure that Noosa’s tourism industry benefits from every single opportunity to attract visitors to the region.” 

This year, Noosa Council signed a new tourism funding agreement with Tourism Noosa that ensures the latter receives $2.52 million of Council’s (resident’s) moolah each year. That’s on top of the funds Tourism Noosa garners from membership fees, booking fees, grants etc. Meanwhile, it is we residents that pay for much of tourism’s impact on public infrastructure, including public toilet facilities, road and footpath wear-and-tear, removal of rubbish from public sites, maintenance of parks and beaches, free buses and so on. 

If any councillor tries to spin you the line that the funding of Tourism Noosa is being subsidised by increased rates on short-stay accommodation properties, consider the following: firstly, all rates revenue goes into general funds, so the rates paid by “STA” properties are not siloed, and, secondly, any additional rate revenue should go towards properly policing the STA local laws and/or paying for public infrastructure impacted by tourists. In my day, Noosa businesses paid the tourism levy on a pro rata basis. Under the current Council, that has changed, and now all ratepayers are now expected to fund the bureaucracy of Tourism Noosa and its efforts to bring even more tourists here.

Tourism Noosa’s advertising continues to portray pretty couples (dressed in white, of course) strolling on an empty Tee Tree beach, walking along the Main Beach boardwalk with hardly a soul in sight, and drifting through a Hastings Street devoid of people. They’re actively conning punters into thinking that tourist numbers are minimal, and that Noosa retains its village feel. It doesn’t.


I perhaps don’t need to explain to you that Noosa’s special qualities – sometimes dubbed “Noosa values” – were hard won over decades, dating back to 1962 when Dr Arthur Harrold established the Noosa Parks Association and began lobbying to prevent the Noosa headland foreshore from being developed. Thus began an ongoing process of converting state forests into national park and maintaining a focus on the natural environment. 

Later, primarily under Noel Playford’s mayoralty, the low-key liveability of the built environment was established, with an avoidance of big city symbols like advertising hoardings and traffic lights, along with a very conscious approach to maintain a village atmosphere and limit urban development. There was even what was euphemistically known as a “population cap” which idealised the carrying capacity for the shire. Of course, this cap (in reality, every planning scheme in the state operates as a sort of cap on development) is only as good as the State Government’s regional planning approach. While staff and I were able to hold the line during the development of the 2017 SEQ Regional Plan, and thus ensure there was no increase in the urban footprint for Noosa, that may not be possible in the near future. It certainly won’t be feasible without a Council that is willing to fight against pressure from the State for Noosa to accommodate many more people.

Meanwhile, the overall demographics of Noosa have shifted. In my council days, we expected the “churn” rate in Noosa to be around thirty per cent every four years. But short stay accommodation and escalating land values may have changed all that. The values and expectations of the resident population are arguably shifting along with rapid demographic change. 


When I moved here a few decades ago, there were low tourism seasons, when the shire and its resident populace gave a collective sigh of relief following each holiday onslaught. To fill these voids, the tourism sector encouraged large-scale events to attract more tourists. Now, of course, there is no effective low season in Noosa. 

Yes, tourism dollars flow through the local economy, and many residents benefit from that money stream. But not everyone benefits. Yet every resident pays, either through loss of amenity or via Council expenses. And the incremental increase in tourism – both tourist numbers and the arrival of new tourism-focussed businesses – is like the proverbial boiling frog: it happens smoothly so that the constant upsurge is not noticed (unless you have lived here for decades and have a good memory).

Has Noosa reached or even surpassed peak tourism?  How would we know? Despite the best of intentions of its volunteer participants, the Destination Management project control group that was announced by Council with great fanfare in 2022 has not met for more than six months at the time of writing this article. It has yet to produce a document, statement or even a sense of purpose. Meanwhile, Council’s Economic Development team has engaged a consultant to apply for “eco-accreditation” for the shire. I fear this is less about genuine sustainability than it is simply another marketing tool to encourage even more tourists. Indeed, eco-accreditation for a tourism mecca is farcical without a genuine Destination Management Plan already in place.

Should tourism be a touch-stone issue for the upcoming local government elections? Yes. Will any candidate have the spine to tackle such a thorny topic – and face the wrath of the business sectors that are fearful of any constraints placed on the endless tourism gravy train? I doubt it.

When I was on Noosa Council, we set up the Sustainable Tourism Stakeholder Reference Group, which included representatives from tourism, business, and the community. It aimed to tackle these very issues. The group hadn’t concluded its work by the time the 2020 election occurred. With the support of the Local Government Association, I also helped motivate the State Government to establish a short-term accommodation reference group. It was considering the possibility of state legislation to help regulate Airbnb and their ilk. After the 2020 local and state government elections, including the departure of the Minister for Tourism, Kate Jones, all that work simply got squirreled away and ignored. 

My interests in destination management spooked the local chambers of commerce and many in the real estate sector. But sometime, something has to give. Otherwise, Noosa will end up like too many other tourism hotspots. 


Let me be blunt. Noosa is for residents first and foremost. That doesn’t mean zero tourists. As I say, tourism is an important part of the local economy. But without defined, measurable targets and controls, Noosa will become an increasingly unpleasant and expensive place to live. Ever escalating traffic congestion, homes converted to party venues, increasing pressure on the natural environment, and rising costs of living will further undermine resident and natural amenity.

A couple of disclosures are required. I am a life member of Noosa Parks Association. I worked on the various campaigns to have Noosa de-amalgamated from the regional council. I have been a councillor on both the amalgamated Sunshine Coast Council and the Noosa Council, and I have been mayor of Noosa. I am tired, burnt out and cynical. I cannot lead the sort of resident revolution which is Noosa’s last chance to prevent our shire becoming just another chunk of the Sunshine Coast, and pretty much like so many other tourist traps. 

There’s nowhere else that I would rather live than the Noosa hinterland. But I now limit my forays into the coastal strip and have given away surfing entirely. The crowds in the surf have reached a level of absurdity. I will continue to enjoy our hard-won conservation areas and their protected wildlife, but less so the protected species that is the hit-and-run, low-spending, drive-in, day-tripper tourist.

What sort of Noosa do you want to see in five, ten, or twenty years’ time?


This Post Has 14 Comments

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    Well said Tony! I agree with all other responses too. You have the worrying situation in a nutshell. Our current Mayor and Councillors will not be fighting for Noosa, as they should be – very concerning.

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    Dear Tony
    Thanks for your article. Your article has raised lots of discussion for us. We also see common ground with you and our residents. As you may know, we are the Resort Managers for The Islander Noosa Resort.
    Firstly, very few of us can call Noosa our first home (we cannot). Most of us have been tourists or visitors (high or low yield) and after holidaying visiting friends in Noosa we either retired or bought a business and moved to be residents. Because of this, we do worry that the negativity against tourists / visitors will impact our economy (there are reports this is already happening in Byron Bay) or create social and irreparable rifts in our community (not dissimilar to what we read about in some towns in Australia) where pent up emotions results in road rage, assaults etc. Rather than focus on the negative, we prefer to acknowledge and applaud the efforts and visions of yourself and former Mayors such as Noel and Councillors and business owners (the list is long) that have made Noosa different and a place to aspire to move to.
    We are also conscious that when we first started our business tourism was not a ‘dirty word’, that residents and visitors lived in harmony. Tourism has even added value to our day-to-day life experiences. In our minds, the concept of ‘bad’ tourism seemed to start with the proliferation of online booking platforms where anyone could be a letting agent or make money through the shared economy concept, especially those with properties in residential areas.
    We have always felt that “resorts” have striven to ‘manage tourism’ sharing experiences with our guests to respect and delight in Noosa, the 8th wonder of the world.
    It may come as a surprise that some of us in the industry agree with your comments about managing tourism in Noosa. Back in July 2022, we gave our view to the Deputy Mayor that the two functions of destination marketing funding and management of tourism in Noosa were best separated. We were advised that the issues went to the ‘heart’ of the Destination Management Plan and that our industry would be involved. Tony, like you say, we have had seen no update or involvement.
    In October 2022 we represented a group of likeminded resort managers (also members of Tourism Noosa) and wrote to the Chair of Tourism Noosa (TN) about the growing frustration residents felt about local project funding going to TN funding. We also flagged issues about TN’s role, the management of tourism in Noosa, the waste resourcing projects not aligned with destination tourism and TN’s performance against benchmarks such as equivalent tourism body’s labour ratios. We also noted that the TN Board was not representative of Noosa and that the specification ccriteria for a Board Director was too operational which we thought impacted on the calibre of the Board.

    In our humble opinion there is too much influence from Noosa Council on Tourism in Noosa as it is a major source of funds for TN. It seems that Tourism Noosa is now a quasi-autonomous council organization thus the frustration felt by residents and members alike.

    This brings us to our last comment (sigh of relief from readers) that Noosa Council, in the absence of leadership in tourism has taken on the role of managing tourism in Noosa. The sentiment about ‘poorly managed’ tourism has seen Noosa Council respond in two ways that has negatively impacted the viability of purpose-built resorts:

    1. The Category 24 (Strata Units -Transitory Accommodation) general rate introduced to manage residential amenity but also applied to purpose-built resorts forced holiday units’ rates up 67% in 2021. Even though some Councillors recognize applying this category to resorts was a mistake, nothing has happened.
    2. The Short Stay Letting or Home Hosted Accommodation Local Law (SSLLL). While our industry whole heartedly supports the SSLLL managing the ‘impact’ of visitors staying in residential areas, we disagree that the SSLLL delivers amenity within a resort as this has always been achieved through the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 (BCCM) and the Property Occupations Act (POA) 2014 Act. The payment of the renewal fee to Council has forced general rates up to 14% over 2022-23 and this excludes increase costs incurred by resorts duplicating overheads required to meet the law.

    We may be naïve but as we see it, one of the ways to practically start managing tourism in Noosa is to support purpose-built resorts. Let’s keep tourists staying in resorts and out of residential areas. It sounds naïve but it’s a start. Residents tell us resorts are not the problem and they want to support small businesses such as ours that employ locals.
    Meanwhile, the accommodation industry is willing to participate in a broader discussion about managing tourism in Noosa.

    Bula and thanks again for your article.
    Cathy Parry-Moule and Roderick McLennan

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    Thank you Tony for your brilliant and succinct summary of the crisis that Noosa is now facing.
    Noosa is at a cross road and is taking the wrong direction under the current Council.
    I agree with everything you say in this concise summary of where Noosa is heading.
    Our permanent residents should not be paying for the $2.5million Council gift it makes to Tourism Noosa business organisation, under this current Council.
    It is admirable that you have the courage to call out the Council for pandering to the ill-informed business community that naively believe that just numbers of tourists matter. History all around the world has shown us that even business will regret chasing unending growth if the product they are selling-NOOSA is ruined by over crowding.
    Leadership, as both you and Noel Playford so ably provided requires standing up to The Hastings Street Association, Tourism Noosa etc and protecting the product – that you so clearly summarised – NOOSA.
    The current mayor, Clare Stewart has not only failed to see and act on the crisis issue you have so clearly addressed.
    The current Council is spending large amounts of Council’s funds on encouraging higher densities and developments to provide low cost rental housing in contrast to the current Noosa Plan and by proposing significant watering down of the Noosa Plan. The Council is proposing to do joint developments with private developers on Council owned land to provide low rental housing. I know how that will work out!
    I appreciate your statement that you are tired but Noosa owes you a tremendous debt, as it does to Noel Playford, but please continue to provide whatever advice and assistance you are able, to keep this great and unique place- that you guys created.

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    “If you can’t measure it – you can’t manage it”…and so here we are. I’ve been going to Noosa for 42 years and it was my Retirement Destiny. I have not seen any Econometric Matrix which spells out – for x Sq km we need x No. of Permanent Beds (Say 50% Standalone Houses, 30% Duplexes and 20% Apartments), with x No. of residents of driving age, x No. of Retail by category, requiring x No. of Car (and Scooter / Bicycle) Parking, x No.Transport options…something like that. I’m also not aware of any “replanting” of lost vegetation in the Shire…acknowledging loss for Bushfire Breaks. But..Noosa is very blessed having Height Restrictions along the main beachfront. It appears problems all started with Airbnb – not measured so not managed.

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    Recent rate notice included a pamphlet titled “Putting Residents First”. Whilst I am pleased to acknowledge this radical change of policy I would have thought it was a given as there is no other reason for local government to exist and therefore no need to mention it except as corporate marketing hype intended to manipulate and coerce. No mention of what they are going to do or how they are going to do it. For instance, are they going to introduce paid parking to the Hastings St. tourist precinct and provide free resident parking permits

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    Thanks Tony, I only just registerd with Noosa Matters and I think that this srtikel should be read by everyone not just suscribed readers as they are ” on that page” anyway or is it published anywhere else already? If not you who else could be leader in a Resident Revolution? Haven’t you got a pedigree?

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    Well said Tony. You have summarized my thoughts on the current Noosa Council. Hopefully most residents will be thinking this way when we vote at the next election.

  8. John Hare

    Eco tourism…or over tourism. Tony’s observations of the current situation are spot on. My major concern is that Council are kicking the can down the road on this issue. Some three weeks ago I wrote (formally) to Council’s CEO concerning the progress (or lack of) in developing Noosa’s Destination Plan. I posed a number of questions. To date I have not had a reply let alone an acknowledgement. Symptomatic perhaps of Council’s “community engagement” approach. It is hard not to be cynical that Council does not want this to be an election issue hence the silence. But the lack of progress on the Destination Management Plan and the over tourism issue generally HAS to be a major election issue come next year’s local government election. I for one will be asking questions.

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    What a wonderful Sunday to read the passion and still existing fire in the belly that comes from Tony. Instead of a murder or stabbing.
    He’s been quiet on these issues for 3.5 years but when he speaks with such in depth knowledge of our local government we all listen.
    Over 80% agree because we have those figures from de amalgamation vote.

    We currently have a Council sitting on a vault of money around $65m plus.
    Yet, they have a legal department that steps in and cries out:
    “We might be sued”
    for supporting our own Noosa Plan.
    We had it with Grasstree. Same crying about risk of being sued.

    We’ve witnessed it again during the week gone by.
    When Developers were told NO to building outside the designated area for a Chinese owned Hotel – Council Legals stepped in.

    Are they against the Noosa Plan?
    With these millions in the bank Council can afford to protect the Noosa Plan and defend any challenge against biodiversity overlays to preserve koalas and GB Cockatoos.

    Yes – Tourism should find its own revenue as it did in the past.
    Yes – we have too many events now with the recent inaugural Elite cars shutting down Hastings street – organised by Hastings street association.
    Weren’t we told there’d be no more new events?
    Clive must have enjoyed opportunity to show off a few from his collection and guests flying in from overseas with their Ferrari for an outing.
    Must have been attempting to go top shelf again but with illegal vans parking within a tee shot – it’s hardly attractive walking through human excrement.

    YES Tony, those of us here for decades do remember and we do fight back.

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    I have only been here 13 years but in that time, I have seen the population grow exponentially through the conversion single houses to duplexes and sometimes multiple duplexes on the original single house blocks. Case in point is the precinct between Mary St and Gympie Tce, all of which has fueled the congestion. How do you curb that sort of silent growth. Noosa continues to sell itself to anyone who visits so I agree that the need for a Tourism Noosa Bureaucracy is superfluous.

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    Good article Tony. Don’t worry about a candidate raising these issues you have mentioned, and others. I will do it and more after being driven out of my home by 6 hours of deafening doof doof noise last triathlon and having all the bird life being chased away seemingly permanently. I want regime change and will get it.

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    Was never a big fan of Tony but think he is right on the money with this. Our “place” is changing quickly and has eroded what “was”. The land rush to come live / holiday here has bought, and is still bringing, much in the way of services and economic value to the community but we have paid for it in non economic ways with loss of environment, ease of access to venues and ever increasing cost of Council’s empire building. I live in now “Leafless” Old Tewantin where we have beautiful new homes and STA’s but can’t find a car park in the main street, queue in traffic to and from it, and our Corellas are spending more time on the ground and on power lines. Hastings Street – havn’t seen it for ages nor likely to either! ……John Duke

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    Well said Tony. Even in my street in Cooroibah I see the difference in attitude with many new residents. Pulling down native vegetation, planting instead, if at all, species that won’t support local fauna. Pouring concrete driveways, driving too fast, a sense of entitlement to their own desires or convenience that rides rough shod over that of the neighbourhood and wildlife.
    I don’t go into town unless I must during the day, never on weekends or holidays. The irony for me is I too am a relatively new resident. 4 years but moved in part because of councils (when you were at the helm) dedication to preserving the natural environment and safeguarding the area from inappropriate development. But here we are. The greenwashing BS of the current council is nauseating and what is happening is exactly as I feared with this current mayor.
    I’m fortunate to live in a peaceful pocket with at least 2 neighbours intent on creating safe havens for endemic wildlife and flora. I’m sorry you’ve become so jaded and tired but it’s hardly surprising. I just wish more residents understood we could still save Noosa from turning into just another vapid tourist Mecca with a ridiculous amount of party style events that most of us couldn’t be stuffed trying to get a park at.
    Oh and yeah. I actually have a very small biz that relies on tourism. Thing is the busier Noosa gets, the less likely my type of guest is attracted to the place. 🤷‍♀️

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