It must have been about 1994 when I was last in the Whitsunday Islands, and it certainly seemed at that time to have a thriving tourist scene. Airlie Beach on the coast was chock full of backpackers accommodation and youthful night life; the choice of short (and cheap) small boat cruises for 2 or 3 nights through the islands was large; and I also stayed at the modest but pleasant enough Club Crocodile Long Island, going on my first (and only) scuba experience.
I've had the impression over the last decade, however, that the tourism scene there is vastly diminished. It seems a combination of factors are to blame: the Australian dollar became more expensive, making us less attractive to backpackers and giving Australians more incentive to travel overseas; several resorts have shut, including the Club Crocodile on Long Island I stayed at (apparently currently looking for a buyer); and as this depressing story on the ABC shows (via lots of drone shots), a formerly mid to low end resort like South Mole Island now lies in embarrassing ruins due to cyclones and a lack of interest or money from the new owners to rebuild anytime soon. (It does look like it would be a massive job. I see the new owners say that they will definitely rebuild and make it a 5 star resort. Actually, I reckon that could be unfortunate overkill - the islands just needs some affordable 3 to 4 star resorts, like it used to have.)
And now, the whole Queensland coral coast is facing the awful publicity about how much global warming is harming the Great Barrier Reef. I can just imagine the Queensland tourism bodies grinding their teeth over this - but they really do need to be proactively trying to counter the impression that news skimming local and overseas readers are no doubt getting that the entire reef is now getting so damaged it is hardly worth visiting. In fact, as I understand it, it's mainly the far northern section, which has next to no tourist infrastructure anyway, which is the worst hit by the warming, for now.
Mind you, I think the other thing tourist operators need to do is to make access to decent reefs more affordable. The cost of a family to go on a one day visit to the one popular reef platform off Cairns is $651 - that's getting up there for the cost of a one day experience.
It all goes to show how the tourism dollar is something that is very hard to rely upon in the long term. For example, oddly, after many years in the doldrums, I get the impression that the Gold Coast is doing pretty well again. You wouldn't have necessarily picked that a decade or so ago, when the Japanese tourism influx was drying up and the replacement Chinese had not arrived. (Although, I see from this recent article, that nearly 80% of Gold Coast tourism is domestic.)
It's a very fickle industry, subject to nature, and the economy both local and international.