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Western Sydney is well placed to welcome millions of visitors through Western Sydney International Airport when it opens in 2026 – but more beds, tables, activities and a co-ordinated plan are needed to maximise the opportunity.

They were the key messages from tourism industry leaders and change makers at the Lights On Western Sydney – Visitor Economy Forum in Penrith on Friday, April 5.

Hosted by Penrith Valley Chamber in partnership with Blue Mountains Tourism, the latest event promoting industry networking within Western Sydney attracted more than 220 tourism-related business people from throughout the region to the new Western Sydney Conference Centre.

Penrith Valley Chamber president Richard Fox said the forum was a success: “The visitor economy is everybody’s business and we need everyone working together so we all benefit from the opportunities when the planes land at the new airport.

“These conversations help uncover the challenges and gaps and give everyone clear direction on what is needed to prepare for 2026.’’

Western Sydney International (WSI) Airport CEO Simon Hickey said the first new greenfield airport in Australia since Melbourne airport replaced Essendon in 1970, WSI would “connect the west to the rest, and the rest to the west’’ supported by Australia’s $60 billion largest ever public/private rail infrastructure partnership (outlined by Sydney Metro CEO Peter Regan).

However, more accommodation, dining and activities were needed to cater for the expected 4 million initial disembarking passengers, Mr Hickey said.

“This is a huge opportunity that hasn’t been done before anywhere in Australia, and what we don’t want to do is miss this opportunity.’’

That message was echoed by Destination NSW CEO Steve Cox, who said while the visitor economy last year exceeded pre-Covid levels and the new airport was set to “turbo charge’’ tourism growth, more 4 and 5-star hotels, attractions and large event facilities were needed before it opened.

UDIA NSW president and Western Sydney Lakes board director Jacqueline Vozzo, who outlined the vision for the extension of Penrith Beach, local hospitality operator Jessica Jenkins and 24-Hour Economy Commissioner Michael Rodrigues said government needed to support innovation and cut back on red tape.

Meanwhile, Winter Sports World managing director Peter Magnisalis shared plans for Australia’s first indoor snow resort, to be built on the banks of the Nepean River and encouraged other out-of-the-box thinkers, a sentiment echoed by Sydney Zoo managing director Jake Burgess, who said Western Sydney needed to build more reasons for visitors to come, stay and return.

An accommodation providers panel discussion included William Schrumpf who built the upmarket Astina Apartments in Penrith CBD and its first rooftop bar, and Mark Webster from William Inglis & Sons who built Liverpool’s first 5-star hotel because he was sick of seeing only inferior hotels in Western Sydney.

Scott Boyes from Trilogy Hotels said Western Sydney was “in for a golden age’’ – if it could “lose the inferiority complex’’ and dream big, and Fairmont Resort Blue Mountains general manager Charlie Young urged collaboration.

Lyn Lewis-Smith, CEO for Business Events Sydney, which secured 70 events worth $220 million in 2023, said Western Sydney was in a prime position to secure the “sugar hit’’ of high-end corporate reward events in lucrative markets like Asia and India, especially when WSI opened.

With international tour business secured at least two years in advance, ATEC NSW regional manager Jennifer Bruce said businesses should “hunt in packs’’ and prepare now for the airport opening – “we don’t have the luxury of time’’.

Scenic World managing director Anthea Hammon encouraged them to research their target market and collaborate to steer visitor itineraries.

A major drawcard for Western Sydney, sport would continue to drive tourism, Western Sydney Wanderers CEO Scott Hudson, Penrith Panthers CEO Brian Fletcher and NSW Office of Sport executive director (regional delivery) Adam Berry said.

In 2023, more than 200,000 people visited Penrith for Panthers football matches and another 200,000 went to the whitewater stadium alone, business worth about $20 million to the local economy.

West HQ CEO Richard Errington said the Rooty Hill venue was already preparing for athletes to filter into the country to train for the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games, given that many would come through WSI.

Kylie Powell, city future director at event sponsor Penrith Council, outlined infrastructure and beautification projects throughout the city and said it hoped to build on the momentum of events such as the Real Festival, which attracted 50,000 people last year.

Penrith Mayor Todd Carney said Penrith currently attracted 1.64 million annual visitors, which the council hoped to boost to 2.74 million by 2030, attract more major events and promote the city as an overnight anchor point for visitors.

As Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue chairman Chris Brown said, “the time is right’’ for the spotlight to shine on Western Sydney.

Blue Mountains Tourism president Jason Cronshaw, who owns Fantastic Aussie Tours, said: “Our new visitors could come from anywhere in the world and stay for longer. They’ll want to flip the current norm and base themselves in Western Sydney (probably around Penrith or the Blue Mountains) and take day trips to Sydney CBD.

“Are we ready for this? Not yet. We need more product – beds, tables, activities – and a co-ordinated plan. But events like Lights On Western Sydney will enable the industry to grow together to make sure we are ready.’’

The next Lights On event will be held in October.