JOHN Wagner has declared the start of his new tourism group as a "new era" for the industry in the Darling Downs.
The founding chairman of Tourism Darling Downs was impressed with the Toowoomba community's response to the new organisation, with more than 500 people heading to the launch party at Wellcamp airport on Tuesday night.
Mr Wagner, who had previously been highly critical of tourism efforts in the region, said the new group's board of experienced tourism operators would be able to rectify rapidly declining domestic and international visitor numbers to the region.
"It's not going to be easy to get tourism back on track here - we're seeing a rapid decline in our visitor numbers, we have to arrest that and then double the tourist numbers in our region," he said.
"I'm very happy with the turnout - we've got well over 500 here, and what I'm saying is people are voting with their feet tonight.
Does the Darling Downs need two tourism lobby groups?
"We need to stop the decline, and I believe we have the right people with the right passion to do it."
The launch party featured Getaway presenter Natalie Gruzlewski as MC and country music star Chelsea Basham as entertainment, along with an enormous menu of locally-produced food cooked by award-winning chef Amanda Hinds.
Mr Wagner's board features tourism heavweights like Tangalooma Resorts chairman and former Toowoomba man David James, who said there was genuine excitement in what the new group could achieve over the next two years.
"You've got a board that are unique in that they understand the economic viability," Mr James said.
"My experience is probably going to bring in some international tourists, one area that we see as a viable source of visitors."
TDD CEO Ruth Wetmore told guests new members would get digital access to the upcoming website, marketing campaigns and exclusive strategy sessions.