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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Eurobodalla Destination Action Plan : a farce?

Council is developing a new Destination Action Plan (DAP) for the region. We are told that the DAP is "about establishing the destination management agenda and direction to sustainably grow the visitor economy of the region over the next five years".

A contractor has been engaged to deliver this project that is proposed to "deliver a practical, informed, and prioritised action plan that addresses both supply and demand factors for the region". The contractor says that "Critical to the success of this goal will be insights from the local communities and industry to inform the strategic direction and recommendations that will shape the DAP". The elephant in the room is the question "The consultant has been given the brief to deliver a Destination Action Plan. Will that Plan dare to identify what hurdles are in place with current resources, budgets and capabilities to deliver the Action Plan?" and "Will the Destination Action Plan be little more than a clone of the current DAP that is widely considered as mediocre at best, and has little if any measurability other than by way of figures that are more than malleable to conveniently suit less than demanding performance reports?" The difficulty with the Elephants in the Room is that those real players in the tourism industry are fearful of saying anything for fear of repercussion. It is a small fish bowl and saying anything negative is best not done. This week's consultant Zoom sessions with a group of "outsiders" will hopefully not include the 'Elephants in the Room', however it is inevitable that the elephants will hear of what is said and will most likely laugh and say "We knew that is what they would say. They are just a noisy few and we know best". This time around however, the goal posts have shifted and the 'elephants' are out in the open without their usual protective cover. It will be interesting to see what happens down the track. There is a fresh push by more than capable, well informed, dynamic independents who are tired of the mediocrity, favouritisms, tardiness and hurdles. Over the past decade Eurobodalla Tourism, for whatever reason, came under the control of those who probably knew least about tourism with little, if any experience of having "skin in the game". Not wanting to be told this, the Business Advisory Committee and the Tourism Advisory Committee of Council that existed were disbanded, effectively closing down any valuable insights and experience, and any dissent. It was hoped that the new Eurobodalla Councillors might inform themselves of the current situation, the organisational structure, the measurabilities and the feedback from the grassroots of industry to then participate and direct the Destination Action Plan to reflect industry knowledge and experience rather that the capacities of those directing the consultants brief. While the consultant is, this week, talking with those who are "outside" the "usual chosen ones" that Council usually "consults" with there is no assurity that what is said does not come back to the "Elephants". Whilst this strangle hold exists, Tourism in Eurobodalla, and the prospect of a business driven action plan for the Eurobodalla that reflects true business acumen rather than bureaucratic incapacity, remains a farce. Eurobodalla Council's tourism arm has already hosted an Industry Networking & Information Night in July this year to provide their updates on tourism marketing, events and the upcoming review of the Eurobodalla Destination Action Plan. The last action plan followed a variety of recommendations that included closing the doors to the Visitor Information Centres based on Tourism Research Australia data that indicated that over 92% of visitors to a region do not visit the Visitor Information Centre and, in Eurobodalla’s case, in excess of 95%. It was revealed that around two thirds of council investment in tourism supported just 5% of visitors. The NSW Integrated Planning and Reporting (IPR) framework indicates that councils should ensure that all services continue to improve productivity and deliver value for money. As an alternate to visitor information centres Council came up with the idea of “Talk to a local” with Eurobodalla Council advising that, instead of having tourists drive to visitor centres for information, it was better to “meet them where they already are”. Eurobodalla Council’s manager of strategic growth Elizabeth Rankin said in April 2021 “These days people rely heavily on local intel – that’s how they decide where to stay and what to do.” “That authentic, personalised information is king, and contemporary approaches to visitor services engage and enable residents and businesses to share information. Everyone in Eurobodalla can play a role in getting the right information to the right people at the right time.”

Ms Rankin said "Even with knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff, a comprehensive assessment of Eurobodalla’s two accredited Visitor Information Centres (VICs) demonstrated the existing model was broken." The visitors that The Beagle spoke to, following Council's decision to close the Visitor Centres, were more than amused when told of the new model, suggested by a consultant, was that 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", endorsed by councillors, suggested 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 was both expensive and old hat. Fortunately, directly after the Batemans Bay Visitor Centre closed its doors the Narooma Visitor Centre, ably managed by the volunteers of the Montague Arts and Crafts Society remained open during the Easter holidays until May 2021. The Society were told they were required to vacate for a new tenant who would be taking over the Council owned building and paying a rental that was on par with other commercial leases in the township. A full year passed with the building empty. At the time of its closure there were upwards of 150 “fish” per day coming in for maps, brochures, local information and to enjoy a warm and hospitable welcome to the region. Has the move proven successful? Did the movement of funding away from Visitor Information Centres to the marketing of the region using new technologies pay off? We don't actually know. Since Council chose to abandon the Tourism Advisory Committee and the Business Advisory Committee that had industry representative membership the appointed Council staff have been able to do pretty much as they wish with their budget to go "where the fish are" with whatever "bait" that is recommended. The major problem to overcome with "fish" is telling them where Eurobodalla is. Basically no-one knows the word Eurobodalla out there in the world. They know Batemans Bay, Mogo, Narooma and Cobargo because of the fires. But "where the bloody hell is Eurobodalla"? Council developed, in conjunction with Destination NSW, the "All Kinds of Natural" branding campaign to promote Eurobodalla. How did it perform? We don't know?

The All kinds of Natural was a branding campaign trying to educate the world about Eurobodalla. Outside of our shire the word simply doesn't stick. What sticks is South Coast, Batemans Bay, Mogo, Cobargo, Bega, Narooma. There is a big difference between a branding campaign to introduce a familiarty of term. Council tried to introduce "Eurobodalla" to a national audience and to also tell a generally "all kinds of natural" Australia that we too were "all kinds of natural". It was going to be "all kinds of wonderful". The designs were done, but then Council found out that Gippsland already had cornered the market on the word "wonder".

The latest marketing campaign is "Our Little Secret". Has it been successful? We don't know. Normally in the private sector such campaigns go hand in hand with a Return on Investment (ROI) report. Initially an idea is put forward and scoped out with the expected measurable outcomes of the investment laid on the table. But with Eurobodalla Council any ROI scoping document or evidence of measure is ether non-existent or remains behind closed doors. One thing is for certain. The councillors have little knowledge of the campaigns or the return on investment. It is common knowledge that the data used by staff is questionable and those who have questioned it no longer work with Council. Given that the tourism budget is in excess of $1 million per year this is concerning to those who believe the Tourism Advisory Committee and Business Advisory Committee should be reinstated to ensure transparency, accountability and most of all measurability. We know that Eurobodalla was part of the visual content supporting the festival promotion for the duration of the he 69th Sydney Film Festival from 8-19 June 2022 with the Eurobodalla commercial broadcast from two large screens located on Pitt Street and Martin Place. We are also aware that the Eurobodalla videos also played on the festival's Facebook and Instagram accounts. What we don't know is "Was that value for money?" Did "the fish" respond by coming to Eurobodalla? We won't know until the next report card is published in July. One report is available from April 2022 offers that Council's $40,000 spend on the "Our Little Secret" "resulted in $150,549 worth of bookings made in Eurobodalla". (Note: at an average of $200 per night for accommodation this equals 750 bed nights across the shire for the month - did they come because of the marketing? We don't know). Council tells us that the campaign had 723.3k impressions ("fish" scrolling through their social media feeds) into Sydney, ACT and regional NSW. The two month campaign ran from February 1 to March 31. Council is about to conduct its Eurobodalla Destination Action Plan. There has been no move to reintroduce the Tourism Advisory Committee nor the Business Advisory Committee. Given that the review will be reviewed by Council staff. The same staff who conducted the last review. What faith can we put into such a Plan? This is the disclaimer of the current Eurobodalla Destination Action Plan 2018 - 2021which was prepared with members of Council Business and Tourism Advisory Committee Members who gave their time and assistance in the development of the Plan. The information contained in this report is intended only to inform and should not be relied upon for future investment or other decisions. It is expected that any specific recommendations should be analysed, and appropriate due diligence undertaken prior to making any investment decisions. In the course of our preparation of the Eurobodalla Destination Action Plan 2018 to 2021, recommendations have been made on the basis of assumptions, methodology and information provided by many sources. The authors accept no responsibility or liability for any errors, omissions or resultant consequences including any loss or damage arising from reliance on the information contained in this report.

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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