2009 OM4Tourism Hidden Jewel Award Winner Announced

Ross River Dam Boat Cruises - Lake RossAnother Hidden Jewel of Australian tourism has been uncovered, as Pop Sullivan’s Ross River Dam Boat Cruises takes out the OM4Tourism national award for 2009.

To be on the only boat on a vast lake, teeming with over 200 species of water birds and fringed by an Australian landscape of mountains and savannah, echoing with the ghosts of history …

Out of bounds to the public since it was created in 1976, the Ross River Dam area opened for cruises four years ago, but Townsville City Council would only allow one boat to operate on the lake, ensuring that Pop Sullivan’s tours remain truly unique.

The MV Kathleen Mary is dwarfed by the 160,000 hectares of water it cruises every Sunday – hard to believe it is right on the doorstep of Townsville, one of Queensland’s busiest centres.

The area is listed as a Wetland of National Significance, encapsulating the history of Australian settlement around its banks, and offering a showcase of bird life, with turtles often spotted lazing on the surface.

Passengers on the 12 metre, purpose-built, flat-decked vessel are guided through the history and fauna by Pop Sullivan, including visits to historic sites from the first station homestead to Chinese market gardens and early hotels.

Optional extras include hopping off the boat for a campfire singalong, and the boat is available for hire for functions, including weddings.

Already an award-winner in Northern Queensland, news of these very Australian guided cruises aboard the MV Kathleen Mary is spreading rapidly by word of mouth, leaving skipper Michael (Pop) Sullivan too busy to market the business.

The cruises have now achieved national recognition with this year’s national Hidden Jewel Awards, which aim to uncover relatively unknown gems of the Australian tourism industry.

The prize is designed to provide the marketing boost that will take the winning business to the next level – a customised website, fully optimised to attract target markets with online bookings functionality. So while his new website beavers away to bring in new business, Pop can continue to focus on what he does best – tour guiding.

Last year’s winner, fly-fishing tour operator Riverfly, has seen extraordinary growth in business since its new OM4Tourism website went live. Riverfly’s Daniel Hackett is on this year’s judging panel, and as a seasoned campaigner for the preservation of Tasmania’s wilderness, he is delighted to see a nature-based venture take out this year’s award.

The judging panel consists of tourism operators who have a proven track record of successfully building a business based on an effective web presence.

Drew Bernhardt is General Manager of Cape Lodge, a hotel in the Margaret River region that was awarded Luxury Travel Magazine’s Best Boutique Hotel in Australia for 2009.

Pip Chalk is Chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia, based in New South Wales.

Phil Walcott is a phenomenal online networker who manages the multi-award-winning Rainbow Connection – a resort hotel in Alice Springs, which took out the Northern Territory Hidden Jewel Award 2008.

Liz Hatherley is Marketing Manager of the Great Escape Charter Company, which runs small-boat luxury cruises around the stunning Kimberley Coast and to the Rowley Shoals.

The OM4Tourism Hidden Jewel Awards, now in their third year, were developed by online marketing business, OM4, to give smaller tourism operators an opportunity to gain recognition.

OM4Tourism websites are designed for small to medium tourism businesses, with all the tools required to attract attention online, engage prospective customers and increase bookings.