Every Christmas we drive to Melbourne with the kids to visit Mum and Dad so I get to reconnect with regional Australia. This is often with somewhat mixed feelings. I have worked with regional tourism for many years now in a marketing and market research capacity so I guess I travel not only as a 'traveller' but also with an eye on the game.
Essentially what I notice, is there is so much opportunity for tourism businesses to shine and untapped opportunity. Here are a few of the highs and lows of my family road trip.
1. Regional produce and and excuse to stop. The Hume Highway is a boring road, with boring stops and not much going for it along the way. It by-passes most of the lovely regional towns. We usually stop at a small town called Jugiong, North of Gundagai. Why do we stop there? For the sole purpose of visiting the Long Pantry Cafe. And so do scores of others it seems. The Long Pantry Cafe is not just a cafe, but I would term it these days as its own little destination along the way, created by enterprising owners obviously looking to tap into the thousands of travellers forced to travel boring Hume. It provides a great excuse to stop and get off the road.
The place is usually packed in holiday season. And even in low season, there is always people in there. A gorgeous cafe, regional produce,green space for the kids outside to run around and a fruit and vege shop along side a furniture and wares store. And GOOD COFFEE. Why are there there not more places doing this with the volume of traffic along the Hume?
2. The Hume by-pass is killing regional towns along the way. OK, it is progress, and with 3 kids in the back seat, every minute we can save the better. Last year we were disappointed that Tarcutta was officially 'bypassed'. We usually stop there instead of Holbrook. They have a nice shaded park for the kids and it is next to a CWA shop.
Opportunity....if there was a big sign on the hwy saying "CWA shop open now" - get your pickles, jams and preserves" it would provide a great excuse to get off that highway. Last year we bought our relishes and picked up a knitted nativity set. They type of thing you would only ever come across in a CWA shop.
In all our research, we see that travellers are looking for authentic country experiences and an opportunity to mingle with the locals. Tarcutta was always a great place for us to do that. The infamous submarine town of Holbrook will be 'bypassed' next and this will slowly kill the town. Unfortunately in talking to people along the way, it seems councils are not proactive in trying to reinvent the towns to provide opportunity. They are still talking about the possibility of the truckie museum hall of fame in Tarcutta, but guess what, it will be far too late. It is a shame I think.
3. Toilets. Yes, here I go again. The toilets are so disgusting on the highway, I am not sure who is responsible to clean the toilets and the surrounding areas. This time I had to introduce my young girls to the joys of squatting behind a tree. Unfortunately noticing the rubish and a needle obviously at some point containing a product assisting a truckie in making his Melbourne to Brisbane trip in one hit...literally speaking.
If your regional town can put a sign on the highway - "Cleanest Toilets On The Hume", the cafe next door and the town will boom. I guarantee. Toilets alone are consistently a concern of road trip travellers in just about every research study we undertake, one of the number one reasons people will stop in a town. Yes, people will leave the highway, go out of their way for a clean loo.
4. Terrible coffee (exception Long Pantry Cafe). The first cafe or truck stop to sell decent coffee will make a motza. We want your pimply faced barista to do his course to learn how to make decent coffee. And listen to him when after his one day course in Melbourne he wants to source his beans from the fair trade coffee plantation in Sumartra. He will make you lots of money.
5. It cost the same to say in a dodgy regional hotel room as it did in the 5 star Stamford Plaza in Melbourne. OK, the Stamford Plaza didn't throw in the free random (not ours) pubic hair in the bathroom, but it gave us free breakfast and valet parking. I will leave it at that...
Regional travel is filled with highs and lows, that is big highs, big lows and a bit of mediocrity in between. What I see is opportunity and lots of it. Opportunity to tap into the traffic of travellers along the way.
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