Monday, November 13, 2006

Building Local Tourism - Frustrations of a Tourism Official

Note to Reader: This response to our article on building local tourism was prepared by a rather frustrated local tourism official. We are sure that many will share his frustrations. Ends

I have read the last Forum article. It is a good summation of regional visitations. A number of issues are apparent to me from the article and can be substantiated through my own experience.

Need for Local Coordination

The first issue is the the need for local coordination of local government efforts, visitor centres and the local industry so that they have a common knowledge of just what is being promoted.
I fear that this is near impossible because of the movement in and out of the industry by major players / personalities. Then, too, marketing reflects what the locals think is good in many cases, not what the consumer/market wants.

This is what I call the " local dollar influence" in the decisions on local brochures and marketing programs.

The need for coordinated marketing of local product at all levels and all mediums

This can only occur after the product has been identified. This is the problem on the coast. Some people think visitors come here for the beach as they did in the 1950s and 1960's for an extended period. Some still do,but other desires are now more sophisticated and are focused on for example, nature based tourism and retail shopping for some isolated visitors.

The market is now more sophisticated, especially in product sought and accommodation. Often I drive past 1960 motels at (town name removed) with no one in them. Why?? the consumer has gone up the market chain as their wants and desires have changed with affluence.

Changing Attitudes

As I see it, the hardest thing is to change the local's opinions and prejudice. As an example, in one area the councils want to change the name of the regional tourism organisation because one influential Mayor thinks that would give local ownership. Local ownership is obviously a good thing, but not when it conflicts with market realities. In this case, Tourism NSW market research says that the consumer sees the area in terms of its existing name. Any new name will require time and expense to establish. So there is a conflict between local political and market realities.

Failure to Appreciate the Value of Market Research

There is also no appreciation of market research on just who is the visitor in regional NSW, as far as local politicians and some operators go. Any area which did go down this path (market research) would save a lot of time and money and get better results.

Lack of Support

Another issue is the lack of support for local tourism bodies by local operators. This problem in NSW contrasts with other States where the industry has got its act together, eg Queensland ,Western Australia. On my last information NSW lags at the bottom of the tourism list apart from Sydney's international potential.

Problems in Attracting International Visitors

The problem for regional NSW is that despite the anticipated growth of international tourism of 8%, those areas will see very little of it, due to distance and the attitude of product wholesalers who look at the bottom line and only promote the major icons Sydney, Port Douglas etc.

Here we suffer from the problems of years of disconnected promotional efforts at state and local level. NSW is a very big state. It is inevitable that regional tourism will suffer in promotional terms as compared to Sydney. We also need to develop and promote key regional icons in competition with Sydney, not as an add-on.

Problems in Domestic Tourism

Domestic tourism is only figured to grow 1% per year, which makes it very hard for regional areas, unless they promote their uniqueness.

If short visits are the new industry (caused by work, family commitments, petrol prices,generally high regional airfares and limited funds), then I think that local areas will have to look at developments in the inter regional tourism markets.

This is very hard to sell to many coastal operators who see the lucrative high spending Sydney market as the answer. It amazes me the bias of some local areas against surrounding areas. Last week, I did some market testing on the visitors to a local caravan park. The majority were from one major nearby centre, the rest from another. The local operators know this and do their own marketing on this basis. Where do you see this in "official" documents??? you don't!!! as the bias is to the metropolitan market.

Again, I think regional areas are in need of accurate figures for just who are their visitors and what segments of the market are they utilising, as a starting point.

Increasing Competition

I do not think a lot of people associated with regional tourism know just how increasingly competitive it is out there in the market place. There is a particular problem in some areas that some retirees who are new to the industry, are balancing their new visitor businesses with their lifestyle needs. This further complicates the issues as they try to run a 24/7 business on a 35 hour week approach.


Tourism can benefit local communities, although it is not the panacea that some people see it to be. But major changes in attitude and approach are required before we can make real progress.

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