The following is a guest blog piece by Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN) Chairman David Sheldon who is also the owner/operator of Elm Cottage in Tumut. We are proud to be affiliated with them through our sponsorship of the ARTN Young Tourism Professional award
Over 45% of the Visitor Expenditure is currently in Regional Australia. That means our network needs to begin updating its practices to fit the current climate. Today’s ever-changing economic challenges should be seen as opportunities as opposed to roadblocks. Tourism is a vibrant and optimistic industry. We need to match that optimism and harness it for growth.
In regard to regional dispersal, some STOs may have already crossed some items off the shopping list but there are some areas that have huge opportunities for growth. In the domestic sector, there is huge potential to grow the VFR market, which is still the sleeping giant. There are also massive opportunities in the recreational, history, wine, restaurant, and education sectors. The messages and the experiences will outperform the price. The domestic market is 70% of the overall industry. This means that the network should begin to take a more proactive approach to that area of the market.
I have witnessed this first hand with our own enterprise. Over the years we have steadily watched an increase in the Indian VFR market. Over the past 12 months, there has been an upsurge with VFR guests from Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Great Britain and Germany and these are all a part of the untapped, international VFR market. These visitors are looking for regional experiences and we have the opportunity to capitalize on that.
There are also plenty of opportunities in the digital space and for regional Australia to take advantage of the FREE Wi-Fi hotspots that will be rolled out shortly from Telstra’s Wi-Fi plan. Our network needs digital development to service silent visitors. There is less clutter in the digital world. In the region, we are witnessing market fragmentation and duplication.
Australia is a Niche Market. Our tourists travel longer to get here. We need to concentrate on keeping those International Visitors longer. We want those low-hanging fruit. Develop the experience the tourists have. Good examples or case studies could be the Great Barrier Reef, Eungella National Park, The Horizontal Falls, Windjana Gorge National Park in WA, Daylesford, and developing the restaurant and wine industry.
Where are National Landscapes?
Australia should not try to be something it’s not. Everything we need is here. We should work to utilize the resources at our fingertips in order to develop a better tourist experience. The network needs to take a consumer-focused approach to do things.
Yes, there is a master plan but it doesn’t really connect the dots. There need to be strategies that align all levels of government. ARTN believes that there is a vital link missing and this is the big-ticket item on the shopping list.
When you delve into this sector, you quickly realise that the visitor economy is not high on the agenda. There a lot of speculation and a lot of spending but while most local government associations appease the industry, there is no real understanding of the visitor economy and the benefits it can bring both socially and economically.
At the NSW LGAs tourism conference held in Bathurst, recently, much was discussed but there real action that leads to a tangible outcome. At the 2011 LGA Sutherland Shire conference, Cr Ken Keith emphasize the role that the Local Government has in the visitor experience, whether they are at a Council sponsored event, or visiting quality council-managed attractions like art galleries, sporting venues, and theatres. Councils also play an important role in marketing and destination management, as well as infrastructure and services that support tourism.
So what has changed?
NSW is not alone here. If you go through the states, you’ll be surprised. There are very few integrated policies at the coalface. Councils are not investing in the full spectrum of Destination Management Plans. Most local government associations have very little understanding of the benefits such plans bring. Many RTOs do have a plan, but they don’t always align with the local government’s plan and those plans need to be fully integrated for the optimal effect.
The Australian Regional Tourism Network has commenced discussions with the Australian Local government association in this regard. The ALGA doesn’t have a tourism policy or platform. They have made considerations for 14 other policies, but tourism has yet to be integrated. This ignores the vital fact that tourism is one of the nation’s best industries for providing economic growth. Tourism simply needs to be on their agenda.
Local government associations hold key platforms when it comes to the tourism industry. The ALGA is the avenue for Visitor Information Services which is a national approach to destination management investment and regional development. We need to invite them to be active members of our industry if we want to enact the changes that our industry needs to grow.
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