Originally established in 1989 with the construction of its first break wall, North docks, and village area, Abell Point Marina has long been one of the major gateways to the Whitsundays for the boating community. The Marina’s popularity grew quickly alongside the growth of tourism in the area, due in part to the development of the main roads between the main business centres of Cannonvale, Airlie Beach, and Jubilee Pocket and also the growing popularity of the islands which resulted in a need for more extensive facilities. In 2004, the second break wall was developed, and the marina became the home of a number of commercial operators. Another 300 berths were developed in the South marina in addition to the North’s existing 270, and the South village facilities were expanded to include a variety of cafés and a marina office. In early 2013, current owner Paul Darrouzet purchased the marina with a strikingly different vision in mind from that of the previous owner. Paul aimed to create a destination that mimicked the operations of a hotel, allowing for guests to visit anywhere between a single day and a full year. New shore side facilities, amenities, and entertainment options were added, attracting new guests and resulting consistent repeat visitation. “As part of that vision, we developed 200 extra car parks, we have widened walkways, and we have developed 4 shore relaxation areas, two new bars, and new cafés,” says Marketing and Business Development Manager Luke McCaul. “Increasingly, we’ve been getting more commercial tenants in for our day activities, and our occupancy has grown astronomically over the last 2 years.”
With up to 500 people employed by or working out of the marina everyday, Abell Point Marin is one of the largest facility employers in the local community. The marina also sponsors a range of local sporting and charity events, as well as many of the boat groups that choose to rendezvous at Abell Point. From a service standpoint, the facility provides a dockhand for every boat that arrives, helping in ways similar to a hotel concierge, and a courtesy car available to all marina customers at no charge. Transfer services, including a newly launched helicopter service, allow visitors to meet all flights out of Proserpine and Hamilton Island within 10 minutes. From a staff perspective, Abell Point strives to be the local professional agent for customers seeking out the area’s hidden gems. “We’re the locals, and we do our best to go over and above to provide the best experience while our guests are here.”
At present, Abell Point features 66 commercial operators on the water, providing a range of tourism experiences, from day activities out to the reef and jetski day tours to overnight sailing and diving packages. Under the guidance of its new owner, the marina has developed the ‘Stay, Play, Explore’ brand, made to incorporate the services offered by said operators. “We see Abell Point Marina as the premier destination to stay, play, and explore the Whitsundays,” says Luke, emphasising the role that the facility plays in the local community, as well as domestic and international tourism. “The Whitsundays is one of the most advertised and promoted tourist destinations in the world,” he continues, “and without a port facility like ours that can grow and sustain a number of commercial operators, the tourism industry here would likely have remained isolated and stagnant. The Whitsundays is the second most tourism dependent region in Australia, so without a port that has the vision to support commercial operations and tourism, it wouldn’t be the vibrant, bustling environment you see today.”
The Whitsundays are widely viewed as one of the most desirable destinations to visit, both for boat owners, and those chartering a vessel. “To have a combined operation that supports both private and recreational boating, as well as commercial tourism operations, is very important,” says Mr McCaul. “There aren’t many marinas in Australia with such a strong commercial and private recreational mix.” Home to over 74 islands, the region also hosts the world famous Whitehaven beach, which is regularly voted as one of the world’s top 10 beaches. “It is very important and integral to have a facility to support both tourists and people with boats on the water.”
Since its establishment, Abell Point has worked tirelessly to develop its model into a value proposition, as opposed to a facility that simply provided the cheapest price. For marine-side customers arriving by boat, the marina has added additional services, ensured that it boards quality tenants, upgraded the facilities and amenities, provided ample car parks, and linked itself with all of the main suppliers in the region, all under the auspices of removing the hassle from the boating experience for its customers. “If they can come here, tie up their boat, and everything is accessible and thought out, then they’re happy, and they’ll leave and tell other people about it,” says Luke. “The culture within our organisation has been reset to a very “yes” attitude, listening to the customer and focusing our efforts on their requirements. That’s important from a tourism perspective as well.”
The vision behind Abell Point’s development and its value proposition has been the creation of a culture needs built from the staff first. “That culture then reflects into the tenants, commercial operators, and the suppliers you use;” explains Mr McCaul, “we’ve put great effort into ensuring that our office environment is providing the tools, training, and resources for our staff to continue to grow, and are motivated every day to focus on the customer.” In addition to organising regular events for both staff and tenants, the marina is also pushing out its training and level of services to its commercial operators and tenants in order to better promote the the same standards throughout the facility. “If you’ve got a great standard coming from the staff, the tenants, and the commercial operators, it just flows onto the suppliers that you use, and their full network of contacts,” Luke says.
Above all else, Mr McCaul emphasises the critical role that the region’s weather patterns play in the success of both the tourism and marine industries. Over the last 5 to 10 years, Luke has noticed a significant increase in last minute bookings as opposed to booking 3 to 6 months in advance. “Consumer confidence has been down over the last decade, and people are trying to hold their money closer to themselves, and not part with it until the last minute to make sure that it’s being well spent,” he says. “Tourism has been impacted by that, because it’s very difficult for companies to forecast their occupancy when the trend has changed to last-minute bookings.” Luke notes that in particular, tourists are waiting for a weather forecast before they book in. “The negative PR that spins from a weather event also has a direct effect on the industry,” he says. “When we had those floods in Queensland, 95% of the operators in the tourism industry were back up and running within the week. It was just 5% of the industry that was affected, and unfortunately the whole sector took a hit.”
Graduating from university with a double degree in business and tourism, Luke McCaul had a clear drive to work within the tourism industry, initially working for 5 years as a Destination Specialist for the Whitsundays with Tourism and Events Queensland. It was during his last year of working within the region that Luke learned about the new owner of Abell Point Marina, and the new direction he intended to take the facility. “They were really looking to develop it into a destination marina,” he says, “so I felt that this was the next big opportunity for me.” In the coming years, Luke intends to continue the refinement of strategies for the development of facilities, services, and experiences that will delight customers and their families, and inspire them to return for repeat visits.