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Editorial September 11th 2020

Welcome to this week’s editorial,

With Spring School Holidays fast approaching (Monday 28 September to Friday 9 October) there is hope that there will be a return to a degree of normal for the South East as we welcome back visitors to the region. While many locals and businesses dependent on tourism have been severely impacted by the bushfires, the poor summer, and then Covid there is a sense of rejuvenation as you wander the streets of Moruya to find shops open, good stocks, happy faces and a sense of prosperity with strong evidence that locals are supporting locals in local retail. But ours is not a region that is solely reliant on retail, industry and services. Sitting atop our economy is tourism and it needs visitors to keep it afloat and vibrant. So many of our community rely on visitors for employment making it critical as to how we promote ourselves to the world outside, what we offer and how we adjust to an ever changing world. Take for instance the way we welcome visitors. In days of old a visitor would arrive at an Information Centre and pick up a map, some brochures of local attractions and activities and even book their accommodation. But then along came the internet. Think of your own travels. Most of us have a clear understanding of what to expect of a place before we arrive. We have already explored accommodation options and established these in proximity to where we want to go and what we want to see. We book online, selecting our preference of accommodation type, location and budget and then pay receiving immediate confirmation. Gone too for most are the days of stopping to pick up a map. We now have devices that know exactly where we are and can guide us to exactly where we want to go. The flyers and brochures of activities and services that are stocked at Information Centres have also become a thing of the past for most of our visitors as they have already researched the region via the internet to establish what activities and sights are available so that they can best prepare (kayaks, fishing rods, bikes). Rarely do we have a visitor arrive who has not already researched on the next their holiday options. The South Coast Travel Guide website analytics show that there is a marked increase in online research of the Eurobodalla region with most site visitors poring over the Must See and Must Do pages and flicking through the brochures that once were to be found at Information Centres. The question of how to respond to the technology changes and the changes in the needs and information demands of visitors was one of the issues discussed this week with Eurobodalla Tourism and members of the local Chambers of Commerce. For some time Eurobodalla Council has identified that it intends to sell the Batemans Bay Information Centre as it is surplus to use. It initially also wanted to divest itself of the Narooma Visitors Centre but instead handed over the centre with its historic lighthouse display to the volunteers of Montague Arts and Crafts. Discussions with the Chambers focused around a 2018 survey carried out of visitors and the results confirmed that the demand for information centres was very low to the point of not being cost effective. The survey revealed that visitors were internet savvy, arrived with accommodation pre-booked and that they had a familiarity with the region and had done their own research on activities and options.

Above: If Eurobodalla Tourism is going to the effort of publishing brochures for distribution to shopfronts and motels they need to ensure that their brochures are accurate. It has been decades since "The Big Cheese Wheel" was operational in Bodalla yet no-one bothered to fact check this before publishing an official Eurobodalla Tourism regional tourism brochure. The local Chambers heard of new options that were being considered such as walk-up touch-screen information stations located around the five principle towns of Batemans Bay, Mogo, Moruya, Narooma and Tilba. They were also told that an alternate to having an information Centre would be to have Chamber members erect information stands in their shops to carry town brochures and any brochures provided by local operators. Eurobodalla Tourism has recently rebadged itself with a new website, a new logo of “all kinds of natural” and new video and social media campaigns aimed at the more switched on potential (and existing ) visitors. They have employed copywriters to compose seductive blogs and are placing a major emphasis on using the array of internet tools to give the region an internet presence. So what of the coming school holidays and the approaching summer? Are the Eurobodalla campaigns on social media enough to drive visitors to the region as the entire Australian tourism market is in competitive hyperdrive for the Domestic Travel needs of a ‘landlocked’ Australian with no where else to go? It is critical for our own local tourism dependent economy to fare well in the coming year, to initially recover and then to prosper. Our Chambers need to widen their membership and encourage and embrace new ideas so that each township prospers, each and all businesses flourish and that the region as a whole benefits by way of employment and service provision. Here is hoping that WE ALL GET ON BOARD and do what we can, acknowledging the vital role that tourism plays in the well being of our local economy that employs so many in our community. Until next—Lei