Grab your favourite pair of sunnies and look up: Cairns is set to shine in 2018.
From property to agriculture, the health sector to tourism, the Tropic Now team has rounded up a long list of reasons the Cairns region will have its strongest year since the GFC hit a decade ago.
Since the launch of Tropic Now and Tropic Magazine in 2016, we’ve been buoyant about our collective future at a time when it wasn’t the most popular view to take.
Back then, property prices were flat, tourism was in a state of flux and Crystalbrook Collection hadn’t arrived on the scene yet.
But we could see green shoots back then, and promoted them on our platforms.
Fast forward to the present, and we’re on the cusp of seeing that optimism deliver tangible results.
Check out this special report to find out why.
1. First Crystalbrook Collection hotel to open
The redeveloped site where the Rydges Tradewinds once stood will open its doors for the very first time in mid-2018.
The newly named hotel Riley will be the first to open under the Crystalbrook Collection banner. Once operational, the hotel will employ more than 175 staff.
2. Other Crystalbrook Collection hotels ramping up
More full-time jobs and tradies will be hired this year as other projects under the Crystalbrook Collection umbrella heat up.
Next in line is the Abbott St project called Bailey, due to open in 2019.
3. Construction to start on Nova City
It’s been a long time coming, but construction of the first two towers at the Nova City development in the Cairns CBD is slated start in the first quarter of 2018.
The proponents have little choice: the project must start soon in order to qualify for council discounts on headworks charges.
4. Hotels to rollout refurbishments and upgrades
Fuelled by the Crystalbrook Collection hotel bonanza, other local hotels will undergo overdue renovations and refurbishments.
The Shangri-La has already announced it will upgrade 184 rooms as part of a $13 million renovation this year.
More hotels will follow.
5. Direct flights from China
Cairns Airport finished 2017 flying high in the international stakes, with China Southern and Hainan Airlines both touching down for direct flights between Cairns and mainland China.
Combined, these two services will bring an additional 48,000 passengers to the region this year.
6. TNQ hosts first Targa Car Rally
Events tourism has exploded in Cairns over recent years, with cultural and sporting spectacles like Cairns Ironman, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair and Elton John all providing profitable shots in the economy’s arm.
From August 31 to September 2, our region will host hundreds of drivers, support crew and fans for the Targa Great Barrier Reef event.
7. Speculation about more international flights
Can we expect more international connections to be announced in 2018 as the tourism industry and projects like Crystalbrook Collection start ramping up?
There’s a lot of talk in the industry about the potential for a major Middle Eastern carrier to be among the new services set to be announced in 2018.
8. Cairns Performing Arts Centre to open
Mayor Bob Manning wants Cairns to be the regional arts capital of Australia, and this year one of the long-awaited elements of that vision comes to life with the opening of the city’s Performing Arts Centre.
9. Brand Cairns
Could 2018 be the year the city finally gets its first marketing campaign?
Here at Tropic we’ve long campaigned for the concept of “Brand Cairns”, a whole-of-city effort aimed at selling our attributes to the world and help drive population growth.
10. Cairns chosen as nation’s real estate investment hot spot
Recommendations don’t come much bigger than this.
During a nationally broadcast Sky News interview, one of Australia’s leading real estate analysts named Cairns as the place to invest in property in 2018.
While the local market has been relatively flat for several years now, most stakeholders believe this year will be a turning point due to job creation, population growth and new investment in projects.
11. Botanica sales to start
For the most part this $200 million project at Caravonica has being flying under the radar, with the occasional headline focused on plans to create a 2.2 hectare lagoon as the centrepiece of the residential development.
With extensive groundworks nearing completion, expect to hear an announcement about the launch of a sales campaign soon.
12. The Chambers to open
One of the city’s most anticipated developments is set to unveil itself in coming months after an incredibly detailed, respectful restoration.
This restaurant, café, car and office space project in an old bank on the corner of Spence and Lake Sts will be worth the wait.
13. Hemingways Brewery Cairns to open
They’ve nailed it in Port Douglas and in mid-2018 it will be Cairns’ turn.
Located on the waterfront at the Cruise Liner Terminal, Hemingways is set to be a beer drinker’s delight for locals and tourists alike.
Food menu on offer looks good too.
14. Trinity Inlet dredging to start?
A key Labor Government promise from last November’s state election could begin this year – and it’s one of the most drawn out, exhaustively-debated projects in the city’s recent history.
Is 2018 the year we finally see Trinity Inlet dredged?
The government says its $120 million proposal could be approved and underway in coming months.
15. Hann Highway
Work will progress on the Hann Highway upgrade this year after the Federal Government announced $53 million in funding for the long-awaited project in July last year.
The highway, a quicker inland alternative for freight between Cairns and Melbourne, will have 3.4km of widening works between Mt Garnet and The Lynd completed early this year, with road sealing works to Hughenden finished by late-2019.
16. Expansion of Cairns Convention Centre
Construction of the $176 million expansion of the Cairns Convention Centre will begin this year, shortly after the Commonwealth Games basketball matches are played here in April.
Once complete, the expansion will bring an additional 25 large conventions and events and around 20,000 additional visitors per year to Cairns.
17. Filming of “Cape Tribulation” movie in Douglas region
At various times over the past 20 years, the Tropical North has been touted as a filmmaking paradise, hosting Hollywood productions like Fool’s Gold, Thin Red Line and The Pacific TV series among others.
Could we be in for a renaissance?
The state government has committed $200,000 for a “screen production strategic plan” to map out TNQ’s potential for attracting new films, while the Douglas Shire will provide the backdrop for the $8 million feature film “Cape Tribulation” later this year.
18. Building to begin on COUCH Wellness Centre
Health infrastructure is critical to the liveability of any city, and the COUCH Cancer Wellness Centre, which gives cancer patients a beautiful place to rest and recover, will fill a long-standing gap in TNQ.
As a side benefit, local jobs will also be created when construction kicks off this year.
19. Bar scene evolving
There’s been a revolution in the local bar scene over the past two years or so, including Tropic’s own involvement with Gin Social at the Hilton Cairns.
With more openings and stiffer competition between venues, the customer will be the winner in 2018.
Respect is due to the crew from Three Wolves, who led the way in the local small bar scene before there was one.
20. Export facility at Cairns Airport
The potential to increase exports out of Cairns, such as agricultural produce and seafood, is well known but infrastructure has lagged behind the concept.
With a State Labor Government funding pledge of up to $10 million to build an export distribution centre in regional Queensland, it may soon become a reality.
But local MPs need to make a strong case to base the facility at Cairns Airport.
21. Council’s plans for the Cairns Courthouse to be revealed
Cairns Regional Council’s big move to buy the Courthouse pub on Abbott St caused a stir way back in December 2016, but its plans for the iconic site have gone quiet ever since.
Much consultation has been done behind the scenes however, so we should hear some news on the building’s future soon.
Expect a big arts and culture focus to complement the Cairns Art Gallery and create a new creative precinct.
22. CQUniversity’s Professional Sports Centre of Excellence to open
Due to open in February, CQUni’s $2.5 million Professional Sports Centre of Excellence will boost the city’s credentials in sports science.
The facility at Cairns Basketball Stadium complex will allow students and lecturers to work closely with players and staff from the Cairns Taipans.
23. Commonwealth Games comes to Cairns
One of the world’s great sporting spectacles will come to town in April when the Convention Centre hosts preliminary round matches of the Commonwealth Games basketball competition.
With 8 teams playing here, including the Aussie Boomers, the economic and cultural benefits are a welcome boost for our city.
24. Wangetti Trail enters funding stage
We’d love to see some tangible progress on the Wangetti Trail project, an ambitious, world-class mountain bike and walking track that will stretch from Port Douglas to Palm Cove.
The visionary project spearheaded by trail building legend Glen Jacobs has the support of Cairns and Douglas councils but needs around $20 million in funding.
25. Cathay celebrates 25 years servicing Cairns
The unsung hero of the city’s aviation scene, Cathay Pacific this year celebrates a remarkable 25-years of flights into Cairns.
The airline’s Hong Kong flights could grow if export capabilities are upgraded as per point above.
26. More tourism companies to be sold
There’s been a flurry of acquisitions in the tourism sector over the past two years, including iconic local businesses such as Raging Thunder, GBR Helicopters and Big Cat.
With visitation set to remain strong over coming years, expect to see more sales of local businesses to large, national companies such as Experience Co.
Fitzroy Island has been on the market for well over a year – could it be among the sales in 2018?
27. Multi-million-dollar renovation of CoCA
Our city’s reputation as an arts and culture hub will be further boosted when a $3.5 million makeover of the Centre of Contemporary Arts on Abbott St is completed in coming months.
Plans include a better layout for the Kick Arts shop and a hot desking space for creatives.
We just hope the famous jelly baby sculptures out the front stay put.
28. Reef To Reef mountain bike event
Events-based tourism continues to grow in TNQ, with another major sporting spectacle added to the annual line-up.
The very first Reef To Reef event will be a multistage mountain bike race taking riders from Smithfield to Port Douglas via the Davies Creek mountain bike park and Mt Molloy.
Hundreds of riders and their supporters will descend on our city in August.
29. On-site student accommodation at JCU
It’s been a long time coming, but 2018 will finally see James Cook University welcome its first on-campus residents at its Smithfield base.
Stage one of the new on-campus accommodation will be home to 300 students, with plans to expand the capacity to 1,000 in the future.
30. Macro-economic trends are positive
As a regional city, Cairns will always be at the mercy of macro-economic trends, from the Aussie dollar and interest rates to global events and geo-political incidents.
Thankfully, most economists predict a positive year ahead.
In a recent assessment, the Queensland Investment Corporation noted: “We expect 2018 to be a positive year for the Australian economy, with growth reaching a trend-like pace of 2.7 per cent following a sub-trend year of 2.4 per cent growth in 2017.”
31. Northern Australia gets funding
Despite being based in Cairns for over 18 months, the Federal Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility has only recommended one project for a concessional loan – and it’s in Western Australia.
On the plus side, NAIF is currently assessing five potential Queensland projects seeking loans.
But there’s no hint yet that any of them are based in the Tropical North.
34. Reinvigoration of Cairns FC
The organisation formerly known as FNQ Heat enters an exciting new era in 2018 under the banner of Cairns FC.
A board full of business heavyweights and new coaching staff have injected fresh inspiration into the fledging club.
Football (or soccer depending on your heritage) continues to grow in Asia, and China has grand plans to become a world game powerhouse. Our proximity to the region and our local talent (on and off the field) offer big opportunities if Cairns FC chooses to grasp them.
32. Remember Frank Gelber’s prediction
One of the most read articles ever published on TropicNow.com.au is titled “Will Cairns boom in five years?”, based on the predictions of renowned economist Frank Gelber. Back in 2016, Mr Gelber said Cairns would be a “boom town” in 2020.
Keep in mind his prediction was made before the arrival of nearly $1 billion in investment by the Crystalbrook Collection.
As we enter the third year of Mr Gelber’s five-year prediction, it appears his optimistic view is proving eerily prescient.
33. Florence St upgrade
The spectacular success of Munro Martin Parklands, the opening of Cairns Aquarium and the soon to be completed Cairns Performing Arts Centre has sparked a plan to upgrade Florence St.
Cairns Regional Council says it want to enhance the pedestrian experience with visual cues inspired by the Parklands. Mayor Bob Manning boldly predicts the Florence St area will become one of the city’s “busiest cultural and tourist hot spots”.
35. CQUni to launch new flight school
The vibrant crew at CQUniversity continue their expansion in Cairns with plans to launch new aviation courses including airline pilot education and training.
In partnership with Hinterland Aviation, the flight school will be based at Cairns Airport in another important step down the path of economic diversification beyond the main game of tourism.
36. Quicksilver set to open its Port Douglas dive centre
In more evidence of the industry’s faith in tourism’s future growth, Quicksilver will open the doors of its Port Douglas Dive Centre in July.
The multi-million-dollar facility will feature a 4-metre-deep diving pool with a glass viewing wall, along with classrooms, offices and retail space.
37. NDIS begins in TNQ
A long-awaited game-changer for health care finally comes to the Tropical North, with the National Disability Insurance Scheme being rolled out in the region from July.
Government estimates show up to 1600 new roles will need to be filled in TNQ to cater for the massive increase in services funding.
By mid-2020, Cairns will receive more than $250 million a year to help around 4,700 people with disability in the region.
Healthcare professional and a variety of skilled support workers will be in high demand.
38. Cairns Marine Precinct upgrades begin
With $24 million worth of Federal funding allocated to three Cairns shipyards back in August last year, our maritime capabilities are being boosted as you read this.
Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch says the funding will “sustain immediate construction jobs and also long-term shipbuilding and maintenance work right here in Cairns.
The investment is in addition to the Turnbull Government’s $420 million pledge to develop additional wharf space and other support facilities at HMAS Cairns over coming years.
39. MSF Sugar turns on its green power station
As part of a $75 million upgrade to its Tableland Mill, MSF Sugar says it will be producing baseload electricity and ethanol – as well as sugar - by July.
Once fully operational, the power plant will use a 100 per cent renewable sugarcane fibre, known as bagasse, to produce 24 megawatts of electricity – enough to power every house in the Tableland region.
40. Government pushes Cairns as Global Tourism Hub
Details are scarce, but that hasn’t stopped the re-elected State Labor Government talking up its plans for Cairns to become a “Global Tourism Hub”.
So far, it seems the plan involves allocating a new casino license for a tourism development within 70kms of the Cairns CBD – a concept talked about since Aquis was a thing back in 2012.
Tourism Minister Kate Jones says the government has identified the Cairns City Port precinct as its preferred site for the development.
Let’s hope 2018 delivers some detail on the hub plan.
41. We still live in the best regional city in Australia
We said it in our list of reasons to get excited about the Cairns economy last year, and we’ll say it again this time around: we get to live in a wonderful part of the world where international tourists choose to visit on their holidays.
We have our problems and social issues just like any other place, but most of all our city is blessed with natural beauty, a multicultural community, entrepreneurial spirit and a laidback lifestyle.
Here’s cheers to a prosperous, pumping 2018 in TNQ.