GOLD COAST, YOU ARE NOW GAINING GRAVITAS

GOLD COAST, YOU ARE NOW GAINING GRAVITAS

FIFTEEN months into his 35-year vision for the Gold Coast, demographer Bernard Salt says perceptions of Australia's holiday capital have already changed.

"It has changed both on the Gold Coast and beyond," he says. "It has given a gravitas to the Gold Coast that was not there before."

Salt, a KPMG partner, was enlisted by the City of Gold Coast last year to create a vision for the city to 2050 based on current demographic and economic trends.

Among his key findings in his Beyond the Horizon report are that the Gold Coast population of 600,000 will double to 1.2 million, that greater global connectivity will drive growth in tourism and migration, and that the city's boom-bust cycle of recent decades will smooth out as the economic base broadens and diversifies.

Salt says his report has created a buzz around the Gold Coast, and business leaders have declared it a success.

"There has been a genuine shift in perception," Salt says. "I've been approached by at least four cities looking to replicate what we have achieved here."

Major infrastructure projects, particularly those related to the Commonwealth Games, the expansion of Jupiters Casino and the planned $300 million upgrade of Gold Coast Airport, have also helped that perception.

However, Salt says Gold Coast business leaders are keen to see more.

Still on their wish list is  stage three of light rail, the Cableway in the hinterland and a cruise ship terminal.

"The cruise ship terminal will not go away, but remains aspirational," says Salt.

"There is no shortage of aspiration on the Gold Coast. It is a community that is galvanised."

Salt also highlights the upgrading of the Gold Coast Airport as key to the city's future growth targets, with the tourism strip now connected to 10 international destinations. This compares with eight for Adelaide.

Salt expects Chinese tourism to make an even bigger impact on the local economy over the next decade than it has in recent years.

"China connectivity is an incredibly powerful story," says Salt. "There is greater connectivity now between Coolangatta and second-tier cities and we will reap the benefits over the next decade.

"By 2020 I want to see five more cities connected."

Underscoring a near doubling of Shanghai's population to 24 million over the past 15 years, Salt says that in less than a generation China has created a cashed-up middle class across its biggest cities. He says the opportunities for the Gold Coast are there for the taking.

"There will come a point, maybe in the 2020s, when (the middle class) have everything they need and they will want to go on an overseas holiday," he says. "We can capture that opportunity."

While Salt sees technology as a key element of the Gold Coast growth story to 2050, he laments Australia's poor record in the sector.

Among the top 10 companies in the US, technology firms such as Google and Facebook are dominant. Australia, he says, is stuck in the past with the list featuring banks and mining  companies that, with the exception of Macquarie Bank, were started close to a century or more ago.

While Salt does not advocate mimicking Americans, he does call for a new attitude to entrepreneurs.

"I think there is a cultural shift that needs to take place in Australia," says Salt. "We need to embrace entrepreneurship and we need to embrace enterprise.

"The Australian people are generally suspicious of business success and I think that's replicated in the Australian of the Year award. When was the last time an Australian of the Year was actually identified from the business community?

"We need a grassroots shift in our thinking about people who have the skills, intellect, risk capacity, the boldness to start a business, employ people and create wealth."

Salt says the Gold Coast can be a leader in this field, as it already has the nation's highest percentage of business owners.

"This idea of natural energy should come from the Gold Coast, from local entrepreneurs."

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