International tourists set for whale of a time
THE 2015 "swim with the whales" season has opened with a splash on the Sunshine Coast and operators hope the activity will be a shot in the arm for the Coast's tourism industry.
The first operator in Australia to offer the activity, two years ago, Sunreef Mooloolaba has partnered with Australia Zoo to utilise the Croc One vessel for day trips.
Owner Philip Hart said while winter was traditionally a lean period for the Coast's hotel and tourism industry, the international community was turning to the Sunshine Coast for the experience of swimming with humpback whales.
"We're taking bookings from New York, China, from the middle of Europe," he said.
"Our objective is to inject up to $20 million a year into the Sunshine Coast."
Mr Hart said he already had 1600 customers from Amsterdam booked for the 2016 season.
"That's 1600 beds filled in Mooloolaba," he said.
"If the Sunshine Coast business owners actually come together as one we'll all do really well out of it, because the Sunshine Coast itself is a great product."
Sunreef is aiming to book 10,000 customers this year, with trial voyages pointing towards a good season.
"There are plenty (of whales) out there," Mr Hart said. "In the trials, we had one time where there were over 50 dolphins and half a dozen whales."
Mr Hart promised that those who swam with the whales were in for a unique experience.
"It's something they won't forget," he said.
"It's quite an awe-inspiring thing to be up close, when you're three feet away from the animal and you're both looking at each other."
The swim with the whales experience will run until the end of October.