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9 November, 2021

Regional spending shows money travels

NEARLY $13 million has been pumped into Mareeba and $14.5 million into the Atherton economy over a 12-month period by visitors coming from the coast.

By Robyn Holmes

And more than $103 million has been spent in the Cairns area by Tablelands residents in the same period, from September 2020 to August 2021.

The figures, provided by Cairns Regional Council, are derived from a tool called Spendmapp which takes transaction data from credit and debit cards around Australia and then weights this for non-card transactions. 

While most community leaders are not surprised by the money exchanged between Cairns and the Tablelands, it prompted a stern message from Mareeba Chamber of Commerce president Joe Moro. 

“Let’s face it, Cairns, and particularly Smithfield, is direct competition to the retail sector of Mareeba and I would say to locals to think twice before you head down the range (to buy items),” he said.

He acknowledged there was a symbiotic relationship between the two economies, saying it was evident from the number of vehicles going to and from Mareeba. 

“You just have to look at the road in the morning to see how many vehicles are going down and coming up which shows a lot of workers are now happy to commute,” he said. 

Accessing health services was another key driver for people to travel to the coast, while the Smithfield Shopping Centre was a big lure. 

“Every time I go to Smithfield, I bump into a lot of people from Mareeba – with the cinema, departments stores and so on, I can understand the attraction,” he said. 

“But on the other hand, it’s interesting to see the amount of people who drive up from Cairns just to go to the Mareeba delicatessen because it’s authentic Italian and they are happy to drive up here for that.”

Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin agreed.

“I know when I go into the deli on a Saturday, I’m saying hello to Cairns people,” she said. 

At the same time, she is also aware of how many locals do their shopping in Smithfield, attracted by large department stores, such as Kmart and Bunnings, and the cinema.

But often the perception that things will be cheaper in Cairns was not correct and people should do some research before making the choice to go to Cairns to shop. 

Mareeba CEO Peter Franks also felt that COVID had been a contributing factor in how people had chosen to spend on entertainment and getaways over the past 18 months.

“There has been a benefit from COVID in that people have been unable to travel overseas or interstate at times so they have been holidaying closer to home,” he said. 

“And with all the works on the Kennedy Highway, we have also benefited from those workers being up here through accommodation, food and so on.” 

Both Mayor Toppin and Mr Moro believe there are gaps in products and services for Mareeba which present opportunities for new businesses such as furniture and restaurants. 

“I would love to see a furniture shop back in Mareeba,” Cr Toppin said. 

“And we had had a number of restaurants open over the years but they then closed, so it would be great to see a restaurant start up again.” 

Mr Moro said he understood why people chose to spend in Cairns with variety and quantity of product sometimes difficult to source. 

“For example, if you want to get a shed built, if you can’t get anyone to do it here because they are so busy, then people obviously turn to Cairns,” he said. 

“If someone wants to buy an air con or a TV, they can find one but maybe they want more choices than what’s available up here.” 

Atherton Chamber of Commerce president Bree Hargreaves was surprised by the $14.5 million coming into the town, but very pleased so much money was flowing into local businesses. 

“Atherton has certainly got busier over the last couple of years with weekend visitors from Cairns and that’s great for local businesses,” she said. 

“It’s interesting what can be a drawcard – I know there are a lot of people who come up from Cairns just to go to the Atherton IGA.” 

Local festivals and natural attractions like Lake Tinaroo and the network of trails and walking tracks were a big factor in the visitation and associated spend. 

Likewise, the Mareeba Rodeo and events like the Rotary FNQ Field Days, and Savannah in the Round music festival were big visitation drivers for the northern Tablelands area.

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