'Repeat offenders' assets to the Coast tourism industry
HERVEY Bay's tourism industry is substantially different from when John Peaker first started work as an aerial whale spotter in 1987.
However not everything has changed as the smiles of returning customers - known fondly as "repeat offenders" - have remained the same for decades.
A far cry from his first job as a pilot, the Hervey Bay Whale Watch owner said up to 20per cent of business came from visitors returning each season to catch a glimpse of the annual whale migration.
After transitioning to skippering on the water, Mr Peaker in 2017 bought Hervey Bay Whale Watch off his friend - local whale watching industry pioneer Brian Perry.
"It's amazing, we even have people from interstate who come back year after year," he said.
"Some people get really emotional, there is just something about the whales that captivate them.
"They just love it."
Blue Dolphin Marine Tours owner Peter Lynch could list the full names and origins of at least six customers who have been coming back for tours for decades.
Mr Lynch has been working with marine mammals since 1983 and been in the Bay since 1996.
"It's more common than you would think," he said.
"We have a mother and daughter, Leslie and Rebecca, who have come back every year since the early '90s and been with us for 12 years - they will be here next week," he said.
"A local, Pam Swain, has been with us for more than a decade, as well as a couple who met whale watching make the trek up from Byron to celebrate every year. I think they are on their 14th year."
Mr Lynch said not only did these tourists benefit the region economically with the money they spent on food and accommodation, they were an asset to the industry themselves.
"The absolute key to this story is why do they keep coming back? It's because of the quality of the experience," he said.
"Some of these people have been whale watching all over the world and they come back to Hervey Bay because of how special it is.
"We really appreciate and value our repeat customers because of their word-of-mouth stories.
"The more people who come through, the more jobs and income."