$2 million ‘Welcome back’ tourism campaign to lure travellers back after cyclone Debbie

QUEENSLAND’S $2 million “Welcome Back” tourism campaign for the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef post-Cyclone Debbie will “saturate” southern states with cheap holiday deals.

Tourism industry leaders hope spectacular images of blue sky, coral reef and snow-white beaches on billboards and TV screens can help the region rebound from the catastrophic event nine weeks ago.

As Melbourne shivered through a cold, wet winter low of 5C, the tropical tourist town of Airlie Beach basked in a crisp, sunny airlie22C day.

To mark World Ocean Day, the Great Barrier Reef also featured on the big screen in Federation Square in the heart of the Victorian capital yesterday.

“We want to show not only is the Whitsundays open for business,” Queensland Tourism Minister Kate Jones said. “But it is still as beautiful and magical as ever. And now it is even cheaper to visit.”

Ms Jones said Flight Centre boss Graham Turner and ­Virgin had come to the rescue with hugely discounted package deals from July for the Whitsundays and Gold Coast.

“We’ve really got to give Scroo Turner credit, he’s really got behind this push to help the cyclone-hit north,’’ she said.

“We’re going to saturate down south with good, cheap deals.’’

The Welcome Back campaign — launched shortly after the Category 4 cyclone unleashed havoc and widespread flooding, from Bowen to the Tweed border — has so far reached more than 4.5 million people and generated $1.1 million worth of advertising.

Tourism Australia also unveiled a similar campaign, featuring iconic Heart Reef and Whitehaven Beach on 200 billboards in France on Wednesday after promotions in Germany and the UK.

“Before the cyclone we were on fire, the momentum was amazing, we were the highest tourist growth destination in Queensland, and then we got smacked,’’ Tourism Whitsundays chief Craig Turner said.

“For us, it is about making sure domestic visitors keep turning up.”