Retiring whale watch operator attributes backpackers to the company’s successJuly 18th, 2017 | | Events
In 1987 Brian and Jill Perry operated fishing charters out of Hervey Bay before starting Australia’s first on-water whale watching tour.
The Perry’s first tour in September 1987 sold out, with around six other tour boats following their lead within just two months – putting the Hervey Coast well and truly on the tourism map.
According to the Queensland Tourism Industry Council, whale watching has transformed the Fraser Coast into a vibrant, year-round tourist hotspot.
“It has certainly turned Hervey Bay and Fraser Island into an iconic destination, where it was 30 years ago a lovely, sleepy campground for some residents but now it’s a thriving industry,” chief executive Daniel Gschwind said.
“The figures suggest there’s almost $1 million every single day on average spent in the Hervey Bay region, on the Fraser Coast, from tourism … that money supports about 7,000 tourism jobs.
“Of course many other people were involved but I think they [Brain and Jill Perry] can be certainly credited with getting the ball rolling as it were and setting up an industry that has supported the region magnificently over the past 30 years and shows every sign of growing for a lot longer.”
Mr Gschwind is confident that innovations like the ‘swim with the whales’ tours, offered by some operators, will maintain the industry’s growth and offer tourists more “personalised experiences”.
“Smaller boats perhaps but more individual tours, special event tours to start the season off perhaps and spotting individual whales, I mean some of these whales have literally been given names now.
“It’s all about personal experiences — experiences that individuals can own and put on social media and say ‘Look, this is my personal experience’.”
The Byte spoke to Jill Perry who is in the middle of handing the business over to friend and sea mate John Peaker – who has been on deck since the couple’s very first tour.
“I’ll never forget my first day on the job – I didn’t even know what a whale looked like in real life,” she said.
“Brian and John were in the plane above spotting whales from the air and throwing toilet rolls out to show us where they were.”
Mrs Perry attributes backpackers to the company’s success over 30 years.
“Backpackers have always been our bread and butter, from day one they’ve been supporting us,” she said.
“They’ve definitely changed over the years, though. They’re smarter, more educated and do their research. Some even book tours up to six months in advance online. It never used to be like that”
The Perry’s will now enjoy their time in retirement with plans to travel, but one thing that will never compare to home is the whales themselves.
“Hervey Bay is the best place to see whales in the world,” Jill admits. “I’ve travelled the world but nothing compares to here. Hervey Bay is where whales rest and play for four months each year.”
Written by Alex Harmon