An artist's impression of Aquis resort.

Unusual location: An artist's impression of the proposed Aquis casino and resort in Cairns.

What are they thinking, even considering a mega resort development in Tropical North Queensland?

The proposed $8.15 billion Aquis Great Barrier Reef Resort development has moved a step closer to reality with news that it is set to be granted a casino licence if it goes ahead, but surely that wouldn’t be allowed to happen?

There are many, many places in the world you can go if you want to stay in an anonymous mega resort that has everything you could possibly need in one place, or if you feel the need to gamble.

If we really must have another one of these developments, does it have to be in a low-key, nature-based tourism destination such as northern Queensland?

The proposed Aquis resort development, which is yet to obtain a number of approvals, could eventually include eight hotels, two casinos, an artificial lake, an artificial island, a golf course, shops, an aquarium, theatres and numerous other recreation facilities.

That’s a whopping 7500 hotel rooms, with the resort to be built on 343 hectares. 

The location is just outside Yorkeys Knob, 13 kilometres north of Cairns and not far from the start of the Skyrail cableway that travels above the rainforest to the village of Kuranda.

Setting aside my personal feelings about these sort of resorts – I think it’s fairly clear that it’s not what I’d choose for my holiday – we have to question if it is an appropriate development for the location.

Tropical North Queensland is characterised by its natural attractions, villages and laidback lifestyle, with a growing emphasis on indigenous tourism.

People who go there are seeking out natural and relaxing experiences, from diving the reef, exploring World Heritage-listed rainforest and walking on quiet beaches to visiting local cafes and markets.

Research by Tourism Australia on the drivers of demand for international visitors to Australia shows that our natural attractions are by far the greatest appeal.

Our beaches top the list, followed by our wildlife, the Great Barrier Reef, rainforests and national parks and “unspoilt natural wilderness”.

Our food and wine and major cities come in eight and ninth place respectively, but otherwise it’s all about nature, heritage and lifestyle.

In each of the 11 key overseas markets surveyed by Tourism Australia, “casinos, bars and nightclubs” came at or very near the bottom of the list of 19 appeal factors.

With the survey countries spread across Asia, Europe and North America, it’s a pretty clear picture of where we should be focusing our tourism efforts.

Of course, it’s not too hard to understand why the Queensland Government is willing to consider the Aquis development when you see the job promises that come with it.

The first stage of the development alone promises 3750 construction jobs and 11,000 operational jobs, with the second stage slated to create 3500 construction jobs and 9000 operational roles.

That’s a lot of people who would gain temporary or permanent work... and we can assume that most of them vote.

The Cairns Chamber of Commerce, not surprisingly, is championing Aquis as an economic boon.

The project developers have made a commitment to use local businesses where possible and it would undoubtedly have a huge impact on the local economy.

Tourism and Events Queensland would not comment specifically on the Aquis development but said in general it was “supportive of tourism development that assists in creating jobs, brings in economic benefits and showcases our destinations to the world”.

“Attracting new investment in tourism product, continual development and creating diversity is also critical to meeting visitor expectations,” said a spokeswoman.

Those who have been following the news on casino licences may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned the other mega resort development slated for a casino: the $7.5 billion Broadwater Marine project on the Gold Coast. 

The Broadwater development, which is yet to achieve all the approvals needed, is set to include a cruise ship terminal, casino and resort.

I’m not thrilled about that project either, but I figure the Gold Coast was ruined by development a long time ago.

Is it too much to hope for a better outcome for Tropical North Queensland?

jane.fraser@fairfaxmedia.com.au