HONG Kong and Singapore tourists are flocking to North Queensland, boosting occupancy in top hotels in Cairns to as high as 98 per cent.
According to Far North Queensland Promotion Bureau (FNQPB) statistics, four-star and five-star hotels are recording an increasing number of Singapore and Hong Kong visitors since direct flights started late last year.
Cathay Pacific also offers packages which a spokesman said have attracted strong interest.
''Hong Kong people have been to most places, so the interest is in going somewhere different,'' he said.
The FNQPB reported a visitor peak during the Lunar New Year holidays in February, when occupancies soared to 95 to 98 per cent in top hotels, which industry sources say was mostly due to Hong Kong and Singapore visitors.
Tourism leaders hope to sustain the interest by offering developing infrastructure, including bigger shopping centres, at least one university, and a casino and convention centre in the next two years.
Expressions of interest to develop a hotel site adjoining the convention centre are expected to be called in the next few months.
Geoff Donaghy, who has headed the promotion bureau for five years and will become managing director of the new Cairns Convention Centre early next month, said the region's marketing strategy was to not put all its eggs in one basket.
''We have worked to offer a basketful of attractions suitable for a wider market, with a number of different types of appeal,'' he said.
The region has targeted North Asia, particularly Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong, as the biggest potential source of tourists for the next five to eight years.
Developments such as the casino and convention centre, scheduled for completion in the next two years, are also expected to draw Asian business visitors interested in more than natural attractions.
Mr Donaghy was involved in the launch of Ramada Reef Resort - a precursor of Australia's eco-tourism boom - as its marketing director in 1986.
He said the region's natural attractions such as the Great Barrier Reef and rain forest were well-known, and the industry was now moving further into developments to suit the Asian market.
The first step was provision of access through the international airport and direct flights, and it was developing infrastructure including quality hotels, tours and cruising.
Shopping complexes and golf courses were increasing in number and size, which would suit Hong Kong tastes, he said.
Mr Donaghy said the casino, due to open by the end of next year, could attract Asian gamblers.
The nearby convention centre, a government project, was also set to host its first event in early 1996.
It will be managed by Cairns Facilities Corp, of which International Facilities Corp (IFC), which had a consulting role in the Hong Kong Convention Centre, is the parent company.
The Cairns centre is expected to be of international standard with seating capacity for 2,400, located within walking distance of central city hotels, including the Hilton and Radisson Pacific.
Mr Donaghy said the facility could help make Cairns the forum for Australian and Asian businesses.
''We would like to become the link between business communities in Asia, Australia and the South Pacific,'' he said.
Trade and education links, including a Taiwanese proposal to open a university also could foster longer-term ties.
A Brisbane-based spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services said the convention centre would target the niche market for corporate incentive conventions of about 600 delegates.
Expressions of interest are expected to be called within the next two months to develop an adjoining site for a 31/2 to four-star hotel with 250 to 350 rooms.
Statistics from the Cairns Region Tourism Strategy - compiled by tourism, port and recreation bodies - suggest the downturn bottomed out in 1991 and reversed direction, with the number of international visitors climbing to 508,000 in 1992.
The number of nights they stayed also climbed to more than 3.3 million in 1992.