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‘Ghost town’: Video shows iconic Australian island looking deserted

Written by on May 19, 2024

An Aussie island that should, at this time of year, be bustling with tourists wanting to escape the dropping temperatures has, instead, been branded a “ghost town”.

Magnetic Island, located just 20 minutes from Queensland’s Townsville, has long been a popular tourist destination as it is located within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

The island was hit hard by the Covid pandemic and, as much of the island’s economy relies on tourism, the subsequent lockdowns and travel restrictions had a huge impact on the area.

In recent years the island has begun to recover, welcoming around 290,000 visitors and supporting 25 per cent of the region’s tourism jobs, according to the Magnetic Island Tourism Masterplan.

The visitor economy on the island reportedly generates around $380,000 million in economic output for businesses within North Queensland, creating 1746 jobs.

However, it appears the island may now be facing a new kind of threat: The cost of living crisis.

A recent video uploaded to TikTok by a representative of a local kayak tour company showed a distinct lack of visitors on the island.

The poster, who goes by @crackajack9 online, claimed that Magnetic Island had seen a nearly 70 per cent drop in tourism in 2024.

He said that April and May was usually a busy time for the island, but the video showed the beaches and streets looking deserted.

“Many shops haven’t bothered to open due to the lack of customers, the tour operator said.

“Empty beaches, normally hundreds of people in April and May. Horseshoe Bay, hardly a person here since Easter.

“What needs to change to bring tourists here?”

Video shows Aussie island hit by cost-of-living crisis

The island is home to a permanent community of around 2300 people, with the island’s economy relying heavily on tourism in order to thrive

Estimated 211 businesses operate on the island, including accommodation, restaurants, transport operators, various shops and a golf course.

The local man, who is a representative of local business Magnetic Island Sea Kayaks, shared another video at the start of April, claiming, at that time, that tourism was down 30 per cent on the island.

He did note that January, February and March were typically the quietest months on Magnetic Island “by far” due to the wet and windy weather, but he was still concerned by the very low levels of tourism he was seeing.

He suggested that Tropical Cyclone Kirrily, which impacted the Townsville area in February this year, could be one of the reasons for the drop in visitors, saying it may have “scared” off a lot of tourists during this time.

The local also noted that they had experienced higher rainfall at the start of this year, which could also deter people from making the trip to the island from Townsville.

“We had four really big days of Easter. It was absolutely packed and us locals were absolutely loving it, but since it has just gone into a ghost town,” he said.

He believes one of the big reasons is the cost of living crisis, noting a lot of “people struggling this year”.

When speaking to friends who usually visit the island over the Easter period, he revealed many of them said they were choosing to stay at home this year to pick up extra shifts at work and save some money.

“I honestly don’t blame people, I think it has been a tough season, a tough year. Prices have gone through the roof with everything,” he said.

Commenters were quick to agree that the cost-of-living crisis was likely a major contributing factor.

“Everyone I know is going broke in small business and the tax debts are crippling us all,” one person said.

Another person claimed that people just have “no money” and to say that Australians are “battling” right now would be an understatement.

There are growing calls for industry leaders to help shape the future of Magnetic Island and help tourism grow in the region.

In 2023, the Magnetic Island Tourism Masterplan was published, which was created as a blueprint to manage visitor growth.

From this, the Magnetic Island Tourism Alliance (MITA) was formed, a collaborative body established to provide guidance and advice on implementing sustainable tourism developments and projects.

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Townsville Enterprise Director Visitor Economy and Marketing, Lisa Woolfe, said the establishment of a cohesive Tourism Alliance – guided by industry – is the next crucial step in delivering opportunities for the island.

“As the Destination Management Organisation for Townsville North Queensland, Townsville Enterprise is looking forward to being part of this next evolution for the island, which we know contributes $380.2 million to our visitor economy each year,” Mrs Woolfe said.

“We are seeking passionate and experienced industry representatives who possess a deep understanding of the regional, national and global tourism landscape and who are able to effectively network and advocate for Magnetic Island – and we know there are many that fit the criteria”.