The Hunter Valley's reputation as one of the state's premier tourist destinations will be further enhanced thanks to an $8.8million upgrade of Cessnock Airport.
The upgrade has prompted Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley owner Jerry Schwartz to investigate introducing flights from Bankstown Airport to Cessnock as part of a plan to attract more visitors to the region.
"It's going to be wonderful for tourism. The population centre of Sydney is western Sydney. People will be able to leave their car at Bankstown and within half an hour they will be in the Hunter Valley," Dr Schwartz said.
The airport upgrade, which will be funded by a $6,636,100 grant from the Restart NSW and $2,212,097 from Cessnock Council, will include the widening and resealing of taxiways; the creation of aprons and aircraft parking areas, improved fuel area access and runway rehabilitation.
Work is due to commence in early 2022 and will be complete within six months.
The project is expected to create about 40 construction jobs and 55 permanent new jobs by 2027.
"Our tourism industry has been hit hard in recent times and this project will transform Cessnock Airport into one of the state's top airports for general aviation and improve the visitor experience," Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said.
"Some people may not know that the airport was gifted to the people of Cessnock in the 1990's and comes with a wealth of history, from use in World War II to having NASA undertake research at this facility. We can now transform this facility and future proof it for our community."
Dr Schwartz, who offers a seaplane service from Rose Bay to Cessnock, said the airport's upgrade would significantly enhance the region's connectivity to Sydney.
"It has always been very difficult to get to the Hunter without a car. There is no train service, no regular bus service and no plane service. That's why I introduced my own charter service," Dr Schwartz, who has recently resubmitted plans for an aircraft hanger at the airport, said.
Another feature of the upgrade is the installation of non-precision GPS approaches as well as an upgrade to the eastern terminal.
"It's always been a problem at Cessnock because it's in a valley. There is often thick cloud cover and without having instrument landing you can't land the plane. You have to be diverted to Maitland" Dr Schwartz said.
"By upgrading the eastern side they will make the airport much more accessible to the public."
The Hunter's vineyards have emergedas one of the most popular destinations among Sydneysiders planning a holiday after lookdown, according to new data provided by travel site Wotif.
The region is currently ranked number one on Wotif's top-10 trending list, beating out Ulladulla and Nowra, scenic towns on the NSW South Coast.
A recent Hunter Valley Wine & Tourism Association report found more than 90 per cent of local employees had either one or both vaccinations.
"I think the vaccination stats really demonstrate employers and employees understanding that we need to invest in getting vaccinated to reopened the region safely," association chief executive Amy Cooper said.
Hunter Valley tourism operators are also hoping to benefit from a new state government tourism campaign which is designed to sell the state to domestic and international visitors as it reopens.
"Too often we've relied on on the buildings, the (Sydney Harbour) Bridge, the heart of the Opera House and the harbour," Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres told reporters.
"They are exceptionally beautiful. There's no doubt about that. But this campaign is about moving a bit beyond them to be able to say they're always going to be there."
Mr Ayres said the campaign was already in the works before the pandemic hit, but it would help the industry get back on its feet as domestic and international borders reopen.
"We think it's a way of saying to every single tourism operator who has done it tough over the last 20 months that we are right behind you," he said.
Despite only Australian citizens and their families initially being allowed into NSW when it scraps quarantine for fully vaccinated international travellers from November, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the new campaign was targeted at overseas tourists as well as those at home.
"This is not a short-term play. This a long-term play for our state," Mr Perrottet said.
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