Following the recommendations and endorsement by Eurobodalla Councillors to close the doors to the Batemans Bay Visitor Centre and the Narooma Visitor Centre the Eurobodalla tourism team have initiated their rollout of printed visitor information materials to interested businesses interested in being an informal visitor information outlet where tourists can go to collect brochures and “talk to a local”. The “Talk to a local” idea was put forward as an alternate to the Visitor Information Centres 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 “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." Visitors to the Eurobodalla were be in for a surprise when they arrived at Easter to find there was no longer a Visitor Centre at Batemans Bay. Their faces said it all when they were told that the councillors had voted to close the Centres, advised by consultants that the Visitor Information Centres are now a relic of the past. The visitors that The Beagle spoke to were more than amused when told of the new model suggested by a consultant, 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. In Narooma it appears that “The Fish” didn’t get the email that they should do their own on-line research of the region to discover what the “influencers” have as their Top Ten. Fortunately the Narooma Visitor Centre, ably managed by the volunteers of the Montague Arts and Crafts Society until May (before they are required to vacate for a new tenant yet to be announced taking over the Council owned building) was still open for the Easter and School holiday visitors. In all 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. In readiness for the School holidays and Easter period the Council Tourism team had established eight “partnerships” with local businesses where their newly published tourism brochures could be collected. Visitors to the region were directed to these outlets via the Eurobodalla Tourism Visitor Information Outlet digital map Of the five outlets in the Batemans Bay area three were caravan parks, (two in Sth Durras and one at Batehaven) with the other outlets being a travel agent, a museum and a library. Anticipating the need for visitor information and the critical role it plays to our tourism based economy the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce and Tourism put in place their own website, https://www.visitbatemansbay.com.au/, to best fill the void left by the closed Visitor Information Centre.
Additionally the South Coast Travel Guide website has enjoyed a spike in visitation.
But these websites do not replace the warm reception, the local connection, the passion and spirit of place, that can be offered via a supposedly outdated and expensive model. It is clear that Eurobodalla Council has no interest in committing funding and staffing to the ongoing commitment to either of its two Visitor Information Centres (VIC). In Batemans Bay they are now looking forward to the sale of the VIC to help pay the running costs of the new pool. In Narooma they are looking to lease the building at market rentals. There is little doubt that tourists have become more web focused for their information. Feasibility studies conducted by Tourism Research Australia (TRA) show information centres across Australia have faced declining numbers over recent years with only 4.4 per cent of travellers entering visitor information centres.
The TRA recommendation is to position centres where people already go, to encourage more foot traffic and increase visitation.
It is clear, by example, that our local Chambers of Commerce are well placed to fill the physical and digital void and provide quality, accurate, unbiased local information. Batemans Bay, Mogo, Narooma and Tilba already lead by example with their own local websites.
This role was once the domain of Eurobodalla Tourism however with their adopting the Australian Tourism Data Ware House template all manner of unchecked promotion now appears on their website and only those local businesses proactive enough with computing skills appear in their listings.
It is little wonder that visitors to the region would prefer face to face rather than wading through a convoluted, disorienting and obvious and often selective marketing device.
So be sure to keep an eye out for the new town brochures distributed by Eurobodalla Tourism to the nineteen outlets across the Shire interested in having a display stand. Oddly the brochures are not available on the Eurobodalla Tourism website.