Australian investors with deep pockets are snapping up derelict Queensland islands, raising optimism in the tourism industry that they will return to their former glory.
- Lindeman Island is the latest of the Whitsundays to be sold to an Australian investor
- In the last 18 months, the islands of Hook, Long, Dunk and Lizard have all been bought by Australian investors
- The future of the islands of Great Keppel, Keswick, Brampton and Double remains uncertain
The latest island to be signed is Lindeman Island near Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays.
CBRE Hotels national director Wayne Bunz brokered the sale and said contracts had been exchanged, with completion expected in early 2023.
But Mr. Bunz was reluctant to reveal the identity of the buyer or the sale price.
“I am pleased to report that it has been sold to an Australian owner, but due to client confidentiality we cannot reveal the name of the new owner,” he said.
Lindeman Island was once home to a Club Med resort, but it has sat fallow since being bought by Chinese developer White Horse with big promises of a $580 million revitalization that came to nothing.
A return of trust
The Lindeman deal follows a series of island sales to Australian rich-listers over the past two years.
Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive officer Brett Fraser said it shows a return of confidence in Queensland tourism.
“These types of assets are challenging and the fact that we’ve seen change of ownership on these islands is positive,” he said.
“Island resorts across Queensland have been the cornerstone of the tourism industry for decades, so bringing them back to market for customers is a great idea.”
Annie Cannon-Brookes, wife of tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, bought the ailing Dunk Island off Mission Beach in far north Queensland in July.
The former 160-room Dunk Island resort, which previously had a 9-hole golf course, restaurants, tennis courts and a day spa, was leveled by Cyclone Yasi in 2011.
A string of sales had slumped on the island, including in 2020 after the ailing Mayfair 101 group bought them in 2019.
A spokeswoman for Ms Cannon-Brookes said she bought the land “with the intention of preserving its natural beauty for years to come”.
Sydney developer Glenn Piper bought cyclone-hit Hook Island in the Whitsundays in May, while in May 2021 a New South Wales hotel group snapped up another Whitsunday gem, Long Island.
Back to “former glory”
Other recent sales include the purchase of Lizard Island by mining magnate Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest and the purchase of Elysian Retreat on Long Island by Sydney venture capitalist Shayne Smyth.
“There has definitely been a shift in the source of investment in recent years,” said Mr. Fraser.
“We’re seeing a lot more localized investment now.
“It gives me confidence that we will see these assets restored to their former glory.”
Mr. Bunz believed that the Lindeman Island purchase agreement was funded by the sale of other islands.
“We always welcome foreign investment in our property and tourism sectors, but it’s great to see strong demand from Australian investors to own and reinvest in these islands,” he said.
“The Brisbane Olympics really put Queensland on the map and there’s a lot of smart money going north from the south.”
However, the future remains uncertain for other Queensland islands along the coast, including Great Keppel, Keswick, Brampton and the Double Islands.
A Queensland parliamentary inquiry is examining whether the economic and regulatory framework for the state’s island resorts is still appropriate, with the committee due to deliver its report by March 2023.
“These islands are good examples of some of the challenges we face with tropical islands,” Mr. Fraser said.
“These islands face challenging environmental conditions and the last few years of COVID-19 certainly have not helped.
“The return of domestic tourism over the past 12 months has returned to pre-COVID levels and we hope that the return of international travel will motivate these owners to revisit these islands.”
Mr Bunz said a growing number of Australian investors are looking to capitalize on rising interest in Queensland’s tropical islands.
“COVID also had a positive impact as Australians rediscovered their own backyard,” he said.
“Many Australians had never experienced the Great Barrier Reef. The Whitsundays and Cairns are probably experiencing their strongest trading conditions in a couple of decades.”
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