Driving back to Perth from the Wagin Woolarama, 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. It started with the Premier burying the tourism agency inside his new mega-department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation which was followed by the rapid turnover of three senior departmental directors. 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.
Road trip tourism is perfect for the wheatbelt but the short-term funding of $2.2m to market the idea across nine different markets is a drop in the ocean that is unlikely to turn around the titanic drop in tourism numbers visiting regional WA.
In May last year, to great fanfare, the Minister for Regional Development and the Minister for Tourism trotted out their Regional Events Support program which allocated a grand total of one million dollars to be spread across 69 events. At $14,500 per event, this is an even smaller drop in the ocean, and makes it hard not to deduce that the government is only interested in the city.
I suspect this is linked to the fact that so few government MPs are born, bred or based in the bush, which leads to their failure to understand the regions, regional events and what we have to offer.
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. The industry recognised it needed more than just a revamped Gourmet Escape or incentives to bring more flights to Perth. It needs to literally drive people out of Perth and give them a taste of the wheatbelt and the outback so that they have a reason to see Western Australia for what it really is, an amazing experience.
You can probably see where I’m going with this. It’s all about Ministers the Money and Mileage. 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 the real Western Australia. 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, bulls at Boddington and the fabulous burning swan at Kulin.
In its most recent deck chair shuffle, Tourism WA has announced a major investment in research to discover WA’s tourism ‘narrative,’ whatever that means? 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 wheatbelt 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 and could be used as part of both tourism and 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 the energy and voice to drive outcomes, plus her own Royalties for Regions 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, wagu and wool.
One million dollars should go towards building a road trip web site of events and planning using the impressive Scoop Digital platform who are world leaders in cross-marketing events on line. Every one of our regional events needs to go on a coordinated single web site that maps out what’s on, where and when, then linking each of them to local pubs, painted silos, and photographic points of natural features. Scoop have cleverly done this with the States wine regions building web sites for every one of the 350 wineries with digital maps linked to translations into Chinese and e-marketing across Asia – check it out scoopdigital.com.
Another million dollars 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. We need to link the home of our producers to the tourist world and follow the lead of the wine industry, brand Wheatbelt for food should be our future brand Margaret River for wine.
And finally, the one million dollars a year currently put towards regional event support should be increased three fold to better support our country town volunteer organisations to grow and market their events. Interestingly enough, Agriculture and Tourism both spin off about the same in gross value about $9- $10 billion each. Both bring big money into the state and both get about the same small amount of direct government regional marketing and event support. Unfortunately most of it goes into buildings and public servants, not projects and publicity which is what this additional $12m in funding would be targeted at supporting.
Next time you go to Woolarama I want you 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 then it should be able to find the same sort of money over the next four years to support our 60 wheatbelt towns to bring in tourist dollars and help market our reputation as a world class producer of lamb, marron, wool etc.
WAfarmers would support any program that brings tourists into our region, as we all know the purest form of marketing is personal people experiences, and for tourists to meet farmers all roads lead to the Wheatbelt.