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The numbers just don't add up for EuroTourism

Coming to the end of a the annual Summer/Easter tourism season it might be good timing to look at Eurobodalla Tourism's role and performance. Firstly let's look at the cost of funding Eurobodalla Tourism and their purpose before we quantify their accomplishments and measure if they are effective or not. The first place to look for the Eurobodalla Tourism budget would be, to many, Council's Operational Plan and Budget 2016-2017. The Beagle found some anomalies there that are more than confusing as it seems whilst Council were moving the chairs around on the poop-deck redefining their pineapples and bananas to make it impossible to compare figures from one year to the next they may well have lost/found/moved several million dollars in the process.

From the above tables of two separate Operational Plans on Councils website we have the spreadsheet below - feel free to open the spreadsheet and arrive at your own conclusions

No doubt there is something amiss with the above and more capable Beagle readers are invited to go over the calculations above at this spreadsheet and explain why these figures don't appear to match up. Links to relevant documents are on the spreadsheet

OK then.. on to what the Eurobodalla Tourism folks are meant to accomplish: From their own 2016-2017 Delivery Plan Council advises:

Eurobodalla Tourism advises that the estimate of total full time jobs supported by Tourism in the Eurobodalla Local Government Area 2015/16 is 3,686 However the figures in their statistics of employment, visitor nights, and net tourism income are based (they state) on National and International Visitor Survey data-sets using ratios implicit in the Regional Tourism Satellite (TSA) Accounts which are applied to the Local Government level assuming the local economy has the same characteristics as the Region. We can see from the above table that Eurobodalla Tourism spends $1.3 million per year. What we don't know is how effective their spending is. EuroTourism published 77,000 glossy magazines this year that were distributed far an wide however most of those were distributed within the Shire rather than outside and many, to this day, remain undistributed at their selected outlets.

Above: Note the spelling of unspolit - Eurobodalla Council's 77,000 tourism 2017 Holiday Guides invited readers to visit the "unspolit" beaches Eurobodalla has - we are still looking for an unspolit beach - please inbox if you find one

From the Actons table above we can assume that if Council "secures 100 articles in travel destination guides and engages in 4 strategic partnerships and delivers 4 industry campaigns then their website traffic should be far greater than 145,000 sessions (hits) and 35,000 leads to business websites via leads (links). In real terms that is only 397 visits per day providing 95 leads to EuroTourism's listed providers. To a commercial website owner these figures are distinctly unimpressive. Without knowing the referral websites, the landing pages, the amount of time spent on a page, what other pages were looked at, which members link was visited and if the visit to that member's web-page actually resulted in a booking leaves you wondering if Council has a way of actually measuring the effectiveness of its tourism campaigns and its tourism budget. Generalised performance reports from the Tourism industry just don't cut it with an expenditure of 1.3 million ratepayer dollars per year at stake with little if any accountability. In reality Eurobodalla Tourism has no idea how many visitors we have had, how much these visitors contributed, what they did, where they went or how they even found Eurobodalla in the first place due to the fact that most of them don't associate the word Eurobodalla with SE NSW which is, in fact, the draw card description for most travellers along the eastern seaboard. Even Visit NSW, which is a primary feeder for travellers to the South East NSW, lists Eurobodalla second last In the current financial year, 2016/2017, ratepayers and businesses are reported to have provided a total of $1,312,000 in funding to support the activities of Eurobodalla Tourism. Was this money well spent? Well, we don't actually know as there is nothing tangible to measure. There are many in the local tourism industry now beginning to suspect that the Eurobodalla Tourism model is flawed, lacking, and needs a review. While the above action table states that Council have just carried out a review of their 10 year Destination Management Plan which is rich with immeasurable and non-measurable motherhood statements we might ask "what was actually reviewed" ? The current EuroTourism campaign strategy is to specifically promote The Big Three - Batemans Bay, Moruya and Narooma with the belief that drawing visitors to those towns provides a run-on effect for smaller towns - the big question of this comes from the realisation for coastal villages with Tuross Head, as an example. To the detriment of Moruya South Head, Broulee, Congo, Bingie and Tuross Head Eurobodalla Tourism more than suggests visitors stay in the Big Three accommodation recommending visitors do daily visits to outlying towns and villages (at a financial cost to any accommodation businesses in those villages).

Councillors Nathan, Innes, Thomson and Pollock were scheduled to attend Local Government NSW Tourism Conference on 12 -14 March 2017. One would imagine that in order to attend such a conference each councillor would be well researched and have a thorough understanding of exactly how EuroTourism currently operates, and be best prepared to meet, listen to experts and peers, and find out how other councils are engaging and managing their own tourism industry. The 2017 NSW Tourism Conference theme was ‘Tourism is everyone’s business’ and the program focused on inclusive tourism, developing and improving Indigenous tourism, maximising the economic benefits of emerging market segments, understanding the needs of nature tourists, leading a community to enjoy tourism and events and activating and sharing art,heritage and culture. Cr Keith Rhoades, President, Local Government NSW, in his opening presentation described the plethora of grants available to assist in development of local tourism projects.There is no evidence that Council has sought any of those grants. Back in 2015 Mayor Lindsay Brown advised the ABC that "Council is moving from being a provider of 'bricks and mortar' visitor centres to a provider of quality visitor information in places where visitors are," Mayor Brown said. The proposal out for public comment at the time included a seven-day-a-week call centre, pop-up mobile visitor information at festivals and places of interest, a volunteer ambassador program and information hubs throughout the shire. The Mayor advised that the proposed model would cost council around $365,000 a year compared to the $645,000 it currently spent on two visitor centres. This year saw a book shop in Moruya provide space to the Moruya Chamber of Commerce so that it might act (with volunteers) as a Drop-in Information centre providing a handful of DL leaflets. In Narooma Montague Art have just announced that it is just a few weeks off one year since MACS started managing Narooma Visitor Centre on behalf of the community. They say "Feedback from the business community and from visitors is very positive". The Beagle has received comments to the contrary that reveal earnings with some local tourism businesses is well down and that things weren't at all positive. Unbeknownst to the Narooma Visitor Centre volunteers they FAILED dramatically in having any knowledge outside of Narooma and when tested (by four different groups of visitors - from local to international). The volunteers showed that they had very POOR knowledge of the wider shire and in their capacity as the Southern Gateway information centre were unable to offer any information other than what was displayed on their DL walls for Batemans Bay, Moruya, Broulee, Mogo or Tuross Head and when asked about kayaking on Durras Lake both international couples were advised that the lakes were in Shoalhaven Shire. The general feel of the four "secret buyers" was that the Narooma Visitors Centre knew about what was in Narooma and what DL flyers they had, that they were all lovely and friendly however each test team left uninformed and saw no option but to go to their devices and the internet as the options provided for activities in Narooma were prohibitively expensive (they were all advised to do a Montague Island cruise). None were advised to visit Central Tilba nor the Mill Bay walkway or follow the Narooma Dalmeny cycleway to Dalmeny and NONE were advised to visit Tuross Head. When asked for accommodation north of Narooma they were directed to Moruya and Batemans Bay accommodation suppliers listed on the EuroTourism website and one group was advised there was no motel in Tuross Head having been specifically asked if there was.

Above: The DL wall at Narooma Information Centre and the Moruya Info drop-in shopfront

Council once stood by the claim that 5% of all tourists to the Shire came through their information centre doors. Though to some this was considered a small volume EuroTourism were quite pleased with the results at the time justifying their continuation of maintaining Visitor Centres. Research conducted on behalf of Eurobodalla Shire Council points to the fact that only 5 per cent of visitors to the region walk through the door of the Batemans Bay or Narooma Visitor Information Centres each year. With the internet and with engaged travellers able to access the net and book accommodation directly via Stayz, and Air BnB, with Trip Advisor, Urban Spoon, Facebook, Pintrest, Instagram and the many travel websites Eurobodalla Tourism's outdated website portal now does little for local commercial tourism. Eurobodalla Council did establish a Tourism Advisory Committee a few years ago however it became quickly evident to members of the committee that Council had little interest in the ideas that were being put forward nor did they appreciate the questions being asked about measurability, especially of the website visitation and the fact that the website pandered to EuroTourism members alone. The time has come for our NEW councillors to look at the role of Council and EuroTourism and its role in stimulating year-around visitation as this is the area that needs to be developed. Eurobodalla has one of the highest under-employment rates in the State and its unemployment rates for youth are in the top five. The days of resting on laurels of high summer visitation are gone - it is time for Councillors to have a very good look at the tourism budget and equate it directly to employment and to the sustainable year around support of the community. They might not feel that it is their role - if that is the case then maybe they need to sit down and work out exactly what their role is. No doubt the councillors who attended the 2017 Local Government NSW Tourism Conference were fully aware of all of this, the finances, the lack of measurability and the lack of anything other than token motherhood statements to account for in its Destination Plan. The Beagle looks forward to reading their report when it is tabled.

#Opinion #LeiParker

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