Whales watching attracted close to 30,000 people to Port Stephens in 2017

Whale watching has embedded itself as a key winter attraction in Port Stephens drawing close to 30,000 people to the region last year for guided tours and countless more to the coastline to see the creatures.

At the launch of the whale watching season in Nelson Bay on June 6, Destination Port Stephens chief executive Eileen Gilliland said the migration is a “key experience” for attracting visitors to the region.

“As a prime location on the NSW coast to see these majestic creatures in action the whale season in Port Stephens is a very important driver of visitation, particularly in the cooler months, to our region,” she said. 

“The domestic market is a key priority market. They’re coming for the short breaks, the school holidays. The international market is a growing.”

Moonshadow-TQC welcomed 18,500 people on whale watching cruises last year and Imagine Cruises about 10,000.

The direct impact the annual whale migration has on the Port’s economy is not known due to a lack of data.

However, whale watchers are believed to make up a significant portion of the 1.5 million people that visited Port Stephens in the year to September 2017 who spent $534 million.

Imagine Cruises manager Frank Future said the rise in whale watching in the past 20 years had made Port Stephens a year-round tourist destination.

“When I started in tourism in 1995 the whale population was less than 300 whales and it wasn’t really an industry,” he said.

“Now thanks to the whales Port Stephens is a year-round tourism economy. Thank god for the whales.”

To capitalise on whale watching visitation, Moonshadow-TQC is working with Port Stephens accommodation houses and holiday parks to create stay packages.

“Winter in Nelson Bay without the whales would be a pretty dim place,” Mel Turner, sales and special events coordinator for Moonshadow-TQC, said. “It is important that we continue to drive this wonderful attraction.

“We are working very closely with accommodation houses of all styles and packaging up the perfect winter escape to Port Stephens to enjoy the whales, local accommodation, food and beverage outlets.”

As part of its marketing, Destination Port Stephens showcases what makes the region unique to whale watching.

“You're in a spectacular destination where you can whale watch and because they migrate closer into Port Stephens, it doesn't take as long to get out there,” Ms Gilliland said.

“It's a shorter trip than when you go to other destinations. That's a unique selling point.”

The Port’s whale watching season runs from mid-May to mid-November.