Creating a tourism destination from the ground up

Article courtesy of Moreton Daily

BIG4 Sandstone Point Holiday Resort won the 2021 Tourism Business Award at the Moreton Bay Business & Innovation Awards, adding to its reputation and existing accolades since opening in November 2018.

Built and owned by Comiskey Group, the facility became the highest-selling BIG4 park in Australia within a year of opening.

As excitement builds for this year’s awards program, Moreton Daily spoke to Comiskey Group Director Rob Comiskey about how they created the visitor drawcard from the ground up.

It all started with what he describes as a unique block of land at Sandstone Point, overlooking Pumicestone Passage, which the family saw and approached the owners about buying.

At that time, the owners weren’t keen to sell but about two years later it was on the market, and after another year of negotiation, the deal was done.

Rob says the Comiskey Group was keen to build a venue on the site but also thought a resort-style caravan park would be popular.

“We knew Bribie has some (caravan parks) already, so we thought about how to make it something special, a destination that people would come back for,” he recalls.

Rob says their vision has struck a chord with 95 per cent of visitors giving it a five-star rating and a huge number returning for another stay.

“For the volume of people moving through the facility, that’s so great. Our staff and managers are unbelievable,” he says.

The average stay is 4-5 nights now. Rob says visitors are heading over to Bribie Island, boosting the local economy and spending their money with other tourism operators

“We believe it’s good for the area and the vibrancy of it,” he says.

Rob says building a five-star resort was just the beginning and five-star customer service is key to remaining at the top of their game.

A focus on catering to families - providing facilities, services and experiences to suit every member of the family - has also been at the heart of their offering.

Ensuring it is affordable for families has also been key.

“We’ve invested a lot of money upfront to make it very unique, more than any other caravan park I know of in Australia, but we have continued to invest,” he says.

That includes $3.5 million in the past two years, expanding not renovating.

In the next six months, they will invest another $2 million in another 21 villas, a swim-up bar and new pool, hot spa, 14-hole mini putt putt course.

These facilities are in addition to a new pump track which has recently been completed and a doubling of the gym and children’s arcade, and the addition of another basketball court.

How the resort evolved

Rob says the first step, after securing the land, was to look at how the resort could be laid out and accessed.

“As a family, we’ve always morphed and changed the way we do things. We’re not fixed on an idea,” he says.

They looked at different caravan parks and resorts and adapted the best ideas around to suit the site and their plans for it.

Rob, who has an Advanced Diploma of Architecture, worked closely with his brother David, whose background is engineering, on design and a masterplan for the site.

The pair believed this was important to ensure new facilities were positioned logically with existing ones, rather than added wherever they would fit.

Rob says this not only enhances the guest experience, but also makes it easier for his team to manage.

One of the obstacles along the way was belief, from others, in what they were planning

“People didn’t believe we should be doing what we did but we’re used to that,” Rob says.

He says many questioned the location because Bribie Island had a reputation for being a “sleepy town”.

“We’ve helped to create vibrancy in the area and employment. We are the biggest employer in the area, with 111 employees in the caravan park alone,” he explains.

“And 80 per cent of our staff are locals, which is great. We prefer to employ locals. I’m blown away by the skillset most of them have.”

Rob says planning has been key to their success in conjunction with research, and a passion to create a resort they would love to visit with their young families. And they do!

How to measure success?

Rob says they measure it financially, of course, but also using feedback from guests. The directors take a look at visitors’ reviews every month to see what is working and what can be improved.

“People vote with their feet, so occupancy as well,” he says.

They take visitor feedback seriously, looking at “value-adds” they can provide for guests including new activities for children and families.

Comiskey Group hope to be able to take the same approach in building another resort at Coochin Creek, Caloundra South, on a 42ha site overlooking Pumicestone Passage.

Rob says they’re hoping to get approvals for the resort over the line in the next couple of months and to complete the project in about two years.

He’s also hoping to connect the new resort with BIG4 Sandstone Point Holiday Resort by boat and is also considering wildlife tours and Indigenous cultural experiences.

Advice to others?

Rob says location and understanding your market are crucial to making any resort a success.

The Comiskey Group is approached regularly to buy blocks of land, but they are selective and choose those they know will work for a particular development.

“It’s got to be unique. If it’s not unique, we don’t do it,” he says.

“Is it somewhere you would go on holiday?”

He says you have to be realistic and not look at the location through rose-coloured glasses.

So, what would make it easier for operators to get a venture like this off the ground?

Rob says capital investment is a big challenge and operators also need experience to make ventures work.

It has been a big learning curve and Comiskey Group has been fortunate to have plenty of experience and knowledge at hand.

“We’re able to adapt and modify and get it under control in months,” he says.

Start preparing for this year’s awards

The Moreton Bay Business and Innovation Awards are returning in 2022, with nominations opening on May 16 at 9am, and closing on July 17 at 11.59pm.