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Growing popularity of Rottnest Island sees it approach 2034 visitor target
The growing popularity of Western Australia’s Rottnest Island has seen it attract almost 770,000 people in 2018, a 15% year-on-year increase in numbers.
The visitor growth is so rapid, that it is closing in on a Tourism WA target set just five years ago of achieving 800,000 annual visitors by 2034.
While meeting that benchmark 15 years early may be a financial success, questions are being asked about whether the island's infrastructure and natural environment is ready to receive that many visitors so soon.
Rottnest Island has been a key part of a Tourism WA two-year action plan which kicked off with a visit by tennis star Roger Federer in late 2017.
As reported by the ABC, since then, Western Australia Tourism Minister Paul Papalia has made more than 20 media statements about the island.
A new ferry operator has been added, ferry tickets have been discounted while new businesses and recreational activities are now active on the Island.
Amid this growth, Minister Papalia has advised that the Western Australia Government iss considering a new management plan drawn up by the Rottnest Island Authority (RIA), which will also be put out for public comment.
Minister Papalia advised “it's around comprehensive infrastructure demands for future and proposals for meeting these demands.
"(The RIA) are anticipating growth and ensuring we are able to deal with that."
Advising that it was possible the RIA would propose a visitor capacity limit in the future, Minister Papalia added “everything done here complies with the obligations of one of the best governance regimes in the world. That is a good thing people can be comfortable about."
Over the past decade Rottnest, an island not connected to mainland water or power, has made major advances in environmental sustainability.
Last year the RIA released its first Sustainability Action Plan (2018–2024) - a set of targets it hopes will help protect the island's environment and cultural heritage as visitor numbers grow.
However, the report references annual visitor numbers of 650,000, a number already being exceeded.
A total of 800,000 visitors is predicted to raise the amount of rubbish generated to 1,615 tonnes, a 36% increase on the amount generated in 2015/16.
It will also place greater demands on water sources, currently supplied by a desalination plant and recently upgraded wastewater treatment plant.
The year 2017 was the first time the island generated enough water to avoid pumping groundwater from the Wadjemup aquifer, which supports the island's lakes.
Despite then Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's criticism of its "ugly" wind turbine, 30% of the island's energy needs is now generated by wind power.
For the past 12 months about 45% of the island's power has been generated by renewable sources, including a newly installed solar panel plant. The remainder is met by diesel powered generators.
Two new developments on Rottnest will not only increase visitor numbers, but also add to the pressure on this infrastructure.
On 1st March, the first new accommodation offering in 30 years will open for business.
Under a 20-year lease arrangement, 83 ‘glamping’ eco-tents have been built on the northern side of the island, at Pinky's Beach.
The RIA is hoping the new accommodation dampens criticism that the island's self-contained units are expensive and at times difficult to book - housing in peak periods needs to be booked 18 months in advance.
It proclaims the 2.8-hectare development -which includes a pool, restaurant and bar - will be a "game changer", with Discovery Rottnest Island General Manager Andy Cleverley advising that bookings for the new accommodation are already looking strong.
Cleverley advised “we are looking at around 28,000 guests per annum.”
The biggest change to the Island will arrive in 2020 when Hotel Rottnest - previously called the Quokka Arms - receives a $40 million redevelopment.
Its existing 18 rooms will make way for an 80-room resort with four pools, a restaurant and function centre.
The hotel's development plans state it expects its water requirements will rise by 185% and its energy needs will double.
Building will begin in May and is expected to be complete by the end of 2020.
Images: Aerial view of Rottnest Island (top, courtesy of the Rottnest Island Authority), Roger Federer's quokka selfie in December 2017 attracted international attention to the island (middle, Instagram/Roger Federer) and new glamping tents at Pinky's Beach (below).
2nd February 2019 - World Tourism Association launched to combat overtourism
16th January 2019 - Increased visitor numbers on Rottnest Island
29th November 2018 - Experiences on Rottnest Island enhanced by new recreational activities
21st November 2018 - New UNWTO Report helps cities manage impacts of ‘overtourism’
3rd July 2018 - Roger Federer to return to Perth for 2019 Hopman Cup
28th August 2017 - Rottnest Express achieves Ecotourism Certification
30th March 2017 - Study finds Rottnest Island quokkas thrive despite increased tourism
25th September 2015 - Gateway Ticketing Systems provides ticketing point of sale system at Rottnest Island
14th August 2015 - Plans for new resort and marina at Western Australia’s Rottnest Island
13th December 2010 - Rottnest Island celebrates a century of tourism
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