Driving back to Perth from the Wagin Woolarama Farm Field Day, I got thinking about all the taxpayer money that goes into marketing tourism across the state and why one of our most impressive regional events was so lacking in interstate and international tourists.
A quick look back through the Tourism Ministers’ past press releases and media articles reminded me of the chaos that tourism has been put through under this government with the Premier burying the tourism agency inside his new mega-department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation, before burning his way through three senior Directors including the highly respected Steve Wood and the colourful former head of the Department of Agriculture Rob Delane.
Eventually the government stopped moving the deck chairs on SS Tourism Titanic and rolled out a two-year action plan which included welcome but limited funding support for wine tourism, and a regional ‘WA Road Trip State’ campaign.
It’s a great idea but the short-term funding of $2.2m to support tourism in nine regional locations is a drop in the Atlantic that is unlikely to turn around the titanic drop in tourism numbers visiting regional WA.
In May last year, to great fanfare, the government trotted out a Regional Events Support program which allocated $1m to be spread across 69 events. This was announced in a joint press release between McTiernan as Regional Development Minister and Papalia for Tourism.
At $14,500 per event, this is an even smaller drop in the Atlantic, and makes it hard not to deduce that the government has a problem understanding tourism. I suspect it’s linked to their failure to understand the regions, regional events and what we have to offer in the wheatbelt. In January the tourism industry called for an additional $26m per year on top of the annual tourism budget of $85m, claiming more businesses and jobs in the sector are “doomed” unless the plummeting number of overseas visitors to WA is addressed.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. It’s all about Ministers the Money and Motoring. If the government is serious about getting tourists back to Western Australia, they need to offer up more than rats on Rotto. It’s a great day trip but seriously what about the regions and road trips and real funding. The government needs to stop talking and thinking about rock lobsters and Rottnest, and get tourists on the road to come to see things like wool at Wagin, burning swans at Kulin and bulls at Boddington.
In its most recent deck chair shuffle, Tourism WA has announced a major investment in research to discover WA’s tourism ‘narrative’. This narrative we’re told will form the basis of yet another tourism campaign and signature event, and all current work will be thrown overboard in an attempt to right the ship.
We can only hope that our fabulous regional events will be able to play into this new narrative, and will be effectively supported and marketed by tourism and regional development. In fact, we have a wealth of great events that should be used as part of our export marketing strategy for all our primary industry products.
Here’s my thinking of what should happen: tourism should be handed over to the Minister for Regional Development, at least she knows where the wheatbelt is and has her own R for R bucket of funding even if it is much depleted. Regional development, agriculture, fisheries and tourism make a natural fit to help cross market our premium lamb, lobster, wine, wagu and wool.
A road trip web site of events should be developed and marketed using the impressive Scoop Digital who are world leaders in cross-marketing events on line. Every one of our regional events needs to go on a coordinated world class web site mapping out what’s on, where and when, then linking them to pubs, painted silos, and photographic trails of natural features. Scoop have cleverly done this with the States wine regions building web sites for every one of the 350 wineries with translations into Chinese and direct marketing into Asia – check it out scoopdigital.com.
Another $1m a year should go into supporting regional producers who are direct marketing produce to tap into sophisticated online marketing like Alibaba which would help reinforce our ‘paddock to plate’ story.
And finally, the $1m a year for regional event support should be increased to $3m p.a. to directly help volunteer organisations to grow and market their events. Interestingly enough, Agriculture and Tourism both spin off about the same in revenue for the State – about $9 billion each. Both bring money into the state and both get about the same amount of direct industry development support. Unfortunately most of it goes into buildings and public servants, not projects and publicity which is what this funding would support.
Next time I go to Woolarama I want to hear not just the accents of New Zealand shearers but Asian, American and European tourists. Let’s face it, if the state government can splurge $12.7m on rebuilding the Bunbury Dolphin Discovery Centre to drive tourism into a marginal seat then it should be able to find the same sort of money over the next 4 years to support our 50 wheatbelt towns in safe conservative seats to bring in tourist dollars and help market our reputation as a world class producer of lamb and wool. We all know that the purest form of marketing is personal people experiences, and for us that starts at in the wheatbelt.