A Disappearing Great Barrier Reef: Rebranding As We Lose a Global Treasure

As the Great Barrier Reef disappears, that will have a major impact on Australia’s economy — and especially on the hotels so dependent on it.

The Great Barrier Reef has been rated as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World [1]. It’s a World Heritage Site and a symbol for Australia.

Unfortunately, it’s in danger of disappearing altogether because of climate change. The reef has already lost half of its size since 1985 [2], and recent coral bleaching presents an existential threat to one of the most beautiful places on earth.

That prospect is a tragedy in and of itself. But there are wide-ranging impacts to this that go far beyond that loss.

Tourism is a hugely important part of the economy is Queensland, the Australian state where the Great Barrier Reef is located, representing 4.5 percent of the state’s economy [3]. But even that doesn’t tell the full story.

In places like Cairns, where the Great Barrier Reef is the primary tourist draw, tourism represents over 15 percent of the local economy [4]. And on Hamilton Island, the economy is so dependent on the Great Barrier Reef that the airport is called the Great Barrier Reef Airport.

This post looks at the Beach Club Hotel, rated by TripAdvisor as the #1 property on Hamilton Island [5].

It’s a luxurious spot. For a room the weekend of January 13, 2017—peak season during the Australian summer—rooms start at $800 AUD per night, or about $615 USD as of Nov. 3, 2016 [6]. Other amenities of the resort include a restaurant that has a pre-fixe menu for $275 AUD per person [7].

They charge a lot because they have a tremendous product: a great, beach-front property in one of the world’s unique locations on the Great Barrier Reef.

But as that changes, and if the Reef continues to shrink, that will force the hotel to change their business somewhat substantially, because it takes away their primary value proposition.

Yes, they’ll continue to have a luxury resort, but travelling to Hamilton Island from elsewhere in Australia—let alone the rest of the world—is expensive and time-consuming. If and when the Reef continues to disappear, the island loses its distinguishing characteristic. International customers will be less likely to go to Hamilton Island, and therefore to the Beach Club, and will instead be drawn to other luxurious beach-front get-aways that are more easily accessible: Hawaii, Bali, etc.

Even for Australian customers, there are plenty of cheaper and more easily accessible resorts.

What that means for the Beach Club Hotel is that they will have to rebrand, and that almost certainly means dropping their prices to make themselves more appealing. As they drop their prices, it will necessarily become less of a luxury resort and more of a mainstream hotel.

That has implications in terms of how much they can pay their staff, how they can and choose to maintain rooms, training for employees, customer service, and continued investment in the property.

Strategically, it leaves Beach Club Hotel management with a few different options. They can accept that go-forward path and allow themselves to move with market and natural forces that will ultimately draw them into a more mainstream market. They can also try something more drastic.

There was a time, for example, that Myrtle Beach, S.C., wasn’t the spring break haven that it’s become today. But at some point, they decided to stop being a classy town and to start being one of America’s capitals of collegiate Bacchanalia and inebriation. Hotel management could try a more aggressive strategy that changes their image altogether—focus on a specific demographic, change what they offer, etc.—to try to thwart the changes that will come from a shrinking Great Barrier Reef.

But that’s a risky strategy. Even if it were advisable, it just seems unlikely.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the operational issues associated with rising water levels caused by climate change, but that’s another major issue for a two-square-mile island that sits not too high above sea level. But unlike this core business issue, that one will likely have to be solved as these theoretical possibilities start to materialize.

The Beach Club Hotel may be able to sustain business for a while. There’s an argument to be made that as people become aware of the shrinking Reef, it will drive up demand from people who want to see it before it disappears.

But if the Great Barrier Reef is in the mortal peril people think it is, then business like the Beach Club Hotel will have to change their value proposition to be relevant and competitive. And that calls for aggressive changes.

Word Count: 750


[1] “Great Barrier Reef teems with life off Australian coast,” CNN, https://web.archive.org/web/20060721011803/http://www.cnn.com/TRAVEL/DESTINATIONS/9711/natural.wonders/, 1997, accessed 2016.

[2] Juliet Eilperin, “Great Barrier Reef has lost half its corals since 1985, new study says,” Washington Post, October 1, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/great-barrier-reef-has-lost-half-its-corals-since-1985-new-study-says/2012/10/01/c733025c-0bda-11e2-bb5e-492c0d30bff6_story.html, accessed 2016.

[3] Tourism Queensland, “About TQ,” https://web.archive.org/web/20090914225016/http://www.tq.com.au/about-tq/profile/profile_home.cfm, accessed 2016.

[4] Cairns Regional Council, “Cairns: Tourism and Hospitality Value,” http://economy.id.com.au/cairns/tourism-value, accessed 2016.

[5] TripAdvisor.com, “Hamilton Island Hotels,” https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g255085-Hamilton_Island_Whitsunday_Islands_Queensland-Hotels.html, accessed 2016.

[6] https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g255085-Hamilton_Island_Whitsunday_Islands_Queensland-Hotels.html

[7] http://www.hamiltonisland.com.au/restaurants/beach-club#fG4urrRKe2GcqFzU.97


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Student comments on A Disappearing Great Barrier Reef: Rebranding As We Lose a Global Treasure

  1. Interesting article! I agree that the Great Barrier Reef needs to make changes to address climate change, but I’m curious about the recommendation that you think they should pursue. I believe that Australia, especially Queensland, needs to be at the forefront of decreasing emissions to help limit the impact of global warming on the reef. In fact, I found a website laying out what they are doing in both the short and long term, to help protect it. This includes investing $200 million dollars a year in the reefs health and permanently banning the disposal of port related capital dredge material in the entire World Heritage Area. I agree with you that the Reef shouldn’t turn into Myrtle Beach, but I think instead of finding other uses for it, they need to focus on maintaining and sustaining it. Please feel free to check out this site to see what else they are doing to restore and maintain the Reef: https://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/protecting-the-reef

    1. I definitely agree that Australian and QLD need to be at the forefront of attacking the global warming issue. Which is why i was extremely saddened to find this article which details the government’s unwillingness to admit the depth of the problem:

      The Guardian – Australia scrubbed from UN climate change report after government intervention. Accessed 11/2016.

      Another way of attacking this issue could be through visitor education. Considering that a majority of Australia’s tourists come from China, one of the world’s major contributors of carbon emissions, educating these tourists could go a long way towards encouraging them to reduce carbon emissions back home.

  2. This is a very interesting post that highlights the impact of climate change on small businesses. Reading this post, it’s hard for me to imagine what the Beach Club Hotel can do to impact climate change and slow the disappearance of the Great Barrier Reef – they seem helpless while climate change destroys the Great Barrier Reef and therefore their business. On the other hand though, one of the greatest threats to the Great Barrier Reef is coastal development. According to the Australian Government, there are currently tourism resort developments on 27 Great Barrier Reef islands [1]. This makes me wonder if perhaps decreasing tourism will be beneficial to the Great Barrier Reef in the long run. I feel like actions taken to combat climate change always involve tradeoffs, and the Beach Club Hotel should begin to look at ways to diversify its business away from tourism for the benefit of the Great Barrier Reef and for the longevity of the business.

    [1] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Coastal development and protecting the Great Barrier Reef,” http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/coastal-development-and-protecting-the-great-barrier-reef, accessed November 7, 2016.

  3. Just as yz2236 was mentioning, maybe a good option for the Hotel would be to reduce the number of visitors. As Machu Pichu is controlling the number of visitors per day to protect this world heritage site (1), hotels from the Great Barrier Reef could join to ask for the same type of legislation. A limit in the number of visitors can be a an opportunity for the hotel. The Hotel could outbalance revenues loss due to lower demand, with an increase in price generated for the exclusivity this can bring to future visitors.


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