By CAITLIN CROWLEY
BUSLOADS of international tour groups combined with an influx of visitors from the state’s south east have put this year’s Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers on track to be the busiest on record.
The city’s gardens are heaving with visitors of all ages, snapping selfies and soaking up the September sunshine and it is big business for the region’s tourism operators.
“Numbers are up, it’s huge,” Toowoomba Regional Councillor Tim McMahon said.
“It’s great to see the buses are coming in as we hoped and Sunday you couldn’t see the flowers because there were so many people.”
Southern Queensland Country Tourism CEO Peter Homan told the Caller it had been a phenomenal Carnival so far.
“Last year we had 364,000 people attend the Carnival over the period and that was a record,” he said.
“As you’re getting up to those really big numbers, it gets really hard to shift that dial and keep them going up all the time but everything we’re looking at at the moment, still with a week to go, we think that number’s going to be beaten.”
Homan said the international market had been strong this year, particularly from India, China and Japan.
Occupancy rates at the region’s accommodation providers have also been up on 2022.
“Last year I think we were in the high 80s around the school holidays as far as occupancy levels and this year what we’re seeing so far, it’s looking around 90 – 91 percent which is really strong,” he said.
The colour of Carnival extends beyond the city’s public and private gardens and into retailers, cafes and restaurants, all working to cash in on the crowds.
Shop fronts are adorned with flowers and at homewares and coffee outlet The Store Room, there’s even a flock of floral sheep inviting guests to snap a selfie with them.
“It’s a great time for Toowoomba to showcase everything that we can, all our beautiful gardens, we’ve now got a vibrant retail and coffee scene and it’s great that people can come and experience that,” Sally Le roux from The Store Room said.
“A lot of people from Brisbane have never been to Toowoomba and make a point of saying, ‘Gosh, you’re only an hour and a half away and this is the first time we’ve ever been here.”
The Store Room has also joined just over 50 other cafes and restaurants participating in Carnival’s trEats initiative, offering $10 – $20 specials throughout the month of September.
Sally Le roux said the food trail concept had boosted foot traffic through the store.
“We’ve got visitors coming in with their guides wanting to partake in that, because it’s a bit of fun,” she said.
“There seems to be a lot of south east Queenslanders – Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast – lots of families, there’s also been some girls weekends.
“People are coming up and coming in to see us and all the other stores they follow on instagram.
“They’re asking where else they can go, or they’ve heard of another shop and we send them in that direction and we try to be supportive of everyone.”
While the move to a month-long celebration has been welcomed by the city’s business and tourism leaders, Councillor Tim McMahon said the changes were still filtering through to some tour operators.
“It’s been great to not push everything onto one weekend with traffic and the rest, but we still have to work through our logistics around advertising for exhibition gardens,” he said.
“We’re getting buses coming up and they’re not open and things like that so it just needs to be communicated well.”
The floral fun continues this weekend with the return of the Teddy Bears’ Picnic at Picnic Point, from 8.30 – 11.30am.