Batemans Bay Visitor Centre to close Feb 28th as Council moves to “fish where the fish are feeding”

Visitors to the Eurobodalla will be in for a surprise when they arrive after February 28th to find we no longer have Visitor Centres with councillors voting to close the Centres, advised that the Visitor Information Centres are now a relic of the past. Instead, according to the new model suggested by a consultant, Council will be looking at other ways it can entice tourists to the region using all the tools it can think of to “fish where the fish are feeding” The analogy of "fish where the fish are feeding" is delivered to suggest that the "fish" (being any visitor to the region) are feeding in Instagram, on Twitter and Facebook and via Google and the old fashioned idea of actually calling in, picking up some local maps, flyers and holiday ideas along with having a human to talk to is both expensive and old hat.

Above: In the original Option 1 plan for the Mackay Park Aquatic Centre the community were told there would be an Visitor Information Centre and a gallery space, as is enjoyed presently showcasing local artists and art. The community were also advised that there would be long vehicle parking in close proximity to main entry.The Aug 27th 2017 report said "The draft concept plan also provides space for a gateway visitor centre and for activities currently accommodated at the Batemans Bay Community Centre". Over several versions of the plans the Visitor Information and long vehicle parking have been removed. On delivery of a report prepared by Council's Planning staff the Eurobodalla councillors voted to support staff's recommendation implementing "new model" for the delivery of visitor information services that recommended the closure and sale of the Batemans Bay Information Centre and that council go to the market for the lease of the Narooma Visitor Information premises

The review, commissioned by Council planning staff and conducted by a consultant, recommended a move away from the current static Accredited Visitor Information Centres (AVIC) servicing model to what they called "a business partnership and digitally based model."

The councillors were told that the findings of the review "clearly identify that the current model is broken" and "there is a shift required to 'fish where the fish are feeding' – taking visitor information to where visitors are rather than expecting them to come to the information."

Over this summer it is of interest that the number of "fish" that have been seen stopping off at the visitor centres puts question to the consultant's observation that the traditional, call-in, face to face personal service is "broken". Council still has no answers for where long-vehicles such as motor homes and caravans will park in the Batemans Bay CBD area and have already advised that any vehicle 8.8m or longer that finds itself in Clyde Street on the foreshore MUST exit the CBD area via Orient Street past the Post Office.

The Batemans Bay Visitor Information Centre will close on the 28 February 2021, replacing the service with what Council refers to as a "business partnership model". Expressions of interest will be sort for the lease or sale of the property with the proceeds of the sale going towards the running costs of the $70 million aquatic Centre across the road. This sale of the Information Centre should be interesting to watch as the parcel of land, gifted to the Council by the Church, has a historic cemetery as a bonus for any prospective buyer.

Council's intention is to replace the Information Centres by establishing a network of local business partnerships (stooges) such as hotels, motels, clubs, cafes, restaurants and attractions who will then provide answers to visitor questions such as "I want to go to Montague Island, do I need seasick pills?" , "Are there any sharks?" or "Where can I practice nude Tai Chi and are then any nude Yoga groups in the area?". Another suggestions offered in the consultant's review and by Council staff in their report to the councillors are the suggestions of information stands with pamphlets, some signage and installations, and best of all "Ambassadors" like Kevin, the local oyster farmer (below) at the Tuesday markets in Moruya, encouraged to offer free tourism advice and recommendations between shucking and oyster sales. More Reading: Reading between the lines on Council closing Visitor Centres: Just ask a local

"Taking a new focus the intention is to engage interest in the region via personal recommendations from friends and relatives. The review says that these "are unrivalled in their capacity to influence consumer decisions, especially relating to holidays and leisure time."

"Encouraging residents to be part of the destination’s ‘marketing team’ by reaching out to their friends and relatives will deliver real results and lift the awareness and perception of the region."

Rather than employ passionate, well informed, well trained tourism staff the councillors decision that will see the Visitor Information Centres close is based on the misconception that handing responsibility of tourism information services to "partnerships" and to folks like Good Mate Kevin is the best way forward. The only beneficiary in this decision is Council's financial bottom line where they save on wages, save on overheads to run the centres and, in the case of Batemans Bay, manage to sell the building (and cemetery on the land) to help fund the overheads of the new Batemans Bay pool that are in the order of $3 million per year. The Council recommendation said "Importantly, this approach contributes to a sense of civic pride and builds a more positive perception by locals about the type of people who will visit the destination, year-round. The strategy involves implementation of an appropriate VFR marketing solution or platform, populated with the best content to inspire and encourage residents to invite their friends and relatives to visit the region. Once content is developed and the platform ready to launch, an activation strategy should be implemented to raise awareness of the program within the local community."