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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Tourism : how is our "fish where the fish are feeding" approach going?

Following on from a very successful visit to Batemans Bay by the Seabourn Odyssey there is now the opportunity for the community, the local Chamber and for Council tourism to look closely at what improvements can be made to improve the visitor experience. The first thing is to identify that we have visitors coming into the region by ship, by aircraft and by car and each, and all of them find themselves in Batemans Bay, as an example, wondering what to do. After the past Council taking on consultant advice to close the Visitor Information Centre the task of finding quality, local information is now on the visitor. Council's approach to removing the Visitor Information Centre was that data showed that too few people now visited them and that their efforts should be focussed on “fish where the fish are feeding” being the internet and specifically social media. Visitors to the Eurobodalla were in for a surprise when they arrived in February two years ago to find we no longer have Visitor Centres with councillors voting to close the Centres, advised by staff that the Visitor Information Centres were a relic of the past. Instead, according to the new model suggested by a consultant, Council staff advised the councillors and the community that they "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. 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." The Batemans Bay Visitor Information Centre closed on the 28 February 2021, replacing the service with what Council refers to as a "business partnership model". Eurobodalla Shire Council sold the Batemans Bay Visitor Centre building for $1,550,000 in April 2022 with the proceeds of the sale going towards the running costs of the $70 million aquatic Centre across the road that is now running at a cost to the ratepayer of $4 million per year. It is still on the cards that Council will also sell the Batemans Bay Community Centre as it has been the intention to also channel the return from this sale into the Bay Pavilion facility. 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

Above: why bother having a visitors information centre when you can simply ask Kev.

Here is their rationale:

"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."

So, rather than employ passionate, well informed, well trained tourism staff the councillors decision saw the Visitor Information Centres close 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 was Council's financial bottom line where they saved on wages, saved on overheads to run the centres and, in the case of Batemans Bay, managed to sell the building to help fund the overheads of the new Batemans Bay pool that are in the order of $4 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."

Yep, that is what it said.... "an activation strategy should be implemented"

The decision to abandon Visitor Information Centres and to establish "partnerships" with hotels and other venues to have leaflet carousels hasn't worked all that well. Eurobodalla tourism has a budget of around $1.2m per year but, without a Tourism Advisory Committee (which was removed by the previous mayor) there is little in the way of real accountability of how Council is spending its budget to attract the "fish". There is a new website, it does have a reasonable social media presence and the guides that you can find are well produced. But what is happening behind the scenes in the way of vision and who is steering the tourism projects and goals? No one knows. Take the meeting of the cruise ship in Batemans Bay. Council's tourism section were no where to be seen. There was no Eurobodalla Council tourism representation. There was no-one from Tourism in a 'Can I Help You?' cap offering local information as there was in December 2018 (below).

Instead, and fortunately, there was Charles Stuart and a band of volunteers representing the Batemans Bay Chamber of Commerce. Charles exchanged a plaques with the ship's Captain and organised a fantastic smoking ceremony presented by Rod Slockee, to welcome visitors to the town. Rod also made a presentation of a hand-crafted message stick to the Captain.

Photos: Julie Stuart In anticipation of the visit a welcoming brouchure had been prepared that gave an overview of the town, its attractions and history, accessible via a QR Code. This suited the 30% of the passengers who were Australian and had Australian SIM Cards however it was discovered that many of the international visitors ashore could not use the QR code that would have delivered them a purpose made guide of the township on their phone or tablet. Fortunately Charles Stuart and his volunteers were able to assist with the flurry of questions around orientation, services and history.

Taking this onboard the Batemans Bay Chamber of Business and Tourism is now looking to what improvements can be made to ensure both international and internal visitors to the town, and region, can be actively engaged and informed. In process is an A3 Map of Batemans Bay that can be handed out to visitors by volunteers to those who arrive by cruise ship or by local businesses to our many visitors who arrive independently. Also planned is a town notice board with a You are here map along with QR Codes and web addresses for local attractions such as the Sculpture Walk, the Heritage Walk and the Rotary Trail that celebrate all of the Rotary projects carried out since 1960 including Holmes Lookout, Korners Park, the Town Clock, Observation Point, Casey’s Beach and the Eurobodalla Botanic Gardens. Rotary Batemans Bay first commenced discussions with Eurobodalla Shire Council (ESC) in 2012 to develop a concept of a Rotary trail suggesting that the trail would be further enhanced with appropriate signage. This is where the hurdles began. Fortunately two of the major hurdles are no longer paving the way to fresh conversations about the signs, their style and their placement. It has long been realised that historic signage in Batemans Bay is almost non-existent with only a small marker stone indicating (incorrectly) the commencement of the Murra Murra Mia walkway, a dilapidated sign on one of the jetties and blank stainless steel plinths on the Coal Bunker wharf. There was some attempt in the redevelopment of the Coal Bunker Wharf and Cenotaph to incorporate appropriate words into the footpath. To visitors and locals, they are obscure and their relevance not understood.

In 2016, Rotary initiated a committee to develop a concept plan for information signs from Smoke Point to Mosquito Bay. The committee had representatives from the Clyde River and Batemans Bay Historical Society, local residents, Batemans Bay Aboriginal Lands Council and Batemans Bay Rotary.

The committee brief was to:

· Develop series of information signs that outline the history of Batemans Bay from an Aboriginal and European perspective.

· Investigate innovative ways in which our Aboriginal history would best be incorporated.

· Provide to ESC, relevant, accurate historic information, personal stories, photos, drawings, maps that could be incorporated into the signs.

o Provide a limit the amount of text, with an emphasis on local stories and anecdotes that could be used at each location.

o Provide additional material that would form part of a website that could be accessed through QR codes.

o To provide design ideas to ESC to ensure that the signs met the Tourism wayfinding & signage strategy.

The Signage Committee then developed a detailed document that suggested the following locations and themes for possible signs.

· Smoke Point – Oyster industry and Timber Mills

· Coal Bunker Wharf (utilising the existing infrastructure) – Crossing the Clyde and Boat Building

· Start of the Murra Murra Mia Walkway – Fishing Industry and shipping

· End of Murra Murra Mia Walkway – Aboriginal reserve

· Octopus (Buoyansea ) sculpture – Aboriginal middens, Albert Ryan Park

· Near Herald St – Timber mills, Aboriginal burial grounds, breakwater

· Hanging Rock – Aboriginal marker and meeting place

· Joe's Creek - Aboriginal settlement and birthing place

· Observation Point – Aboriginal food gathering and cultural significance

The document includes information, personal anecdotes, photos, drawing and maps that would be relevant to each site and incorporated into the sign or the website accessed through the relevant QR code.

The signage committee has also suggested that the signs:

· will enhance rather than spoil photo opportunities.

· Include a limited number of words and interesting images

· Incorporate a QR code so that people can retrieve more information about each

· That the signs incorporates:

o a wave representation (the river and suggesting a pathway) of the concept “Walking the Land”

o a Dhurga welcome “ Walawanni” - “Welcome and we invite you to walk the land along the Bhundu River. Our Dhurga language spoken by the Walbunja people who have lived here from time immemorial”.

· Appropriate recognitions through communal logos, Historic Society, Rotary, Chamber of Commerce

· Preferred sign size – no larger than A3.

Murra Murra Mia Walkway

The signage committee also support the enhancement of the Murra Murra Mia Walkway by:

· Incorporating into the signs at either end the importance of the walkway to the community.

· Install etched Aboriginal designs into the walkway.

o Conducting a school-based design project that identifies local flora and fauna significant to the local Aboriginal people.

o The designs would be inspired by children from local schools and displayed at a public exhibition organised by Rotary.

o The designs would be refined by a local Aboriginal artist to meet the specification required for installation.

o The designs would include the Dhurga language name of the image.

o The engraving would be sandblasted into the granite cross features. Limited to 3mm deep to prevent possible trip hazard.

· Removing the existing stone plinth (incorrect wording) and the old sign on the jetty. With just a single hurdle in the way it is hoped that the Rotary Trail will now proceed and become part of the welcoming, inclusive and informing approach that the town needs to pt in place to provide a quality, independent guide filling the void that was left with the removal of the Visitor Information Centre. Council can play a role in assisting with the information boards and the installation of them to ensure they are sound and safely positioned. It is clear that since Council's decision to close its Visitor Information Centres and to direct the "fish" to its website and social media the community have taken it upon themselves to celebrate their own townships with stories and histories that are not on the Council tourism website. We now have local walks with information plaques in Narooma, Tuross Head, Moruya, Moruya Heads, Tomakin, and soon to be Batemans Bay.

It is refreshing to see the community respond to the withdrawal of visitor services by stepping in and providing a solution that is owned by the community and reflects the community. Batemans Bay has now created its own website, as has Moruya, Tuross Head, Mogo, Narooma and Tilba. By doing so it is clear that the Bay, and the other towns, want to maintain control of the narrative. They want to present their own histories, their own attractions and events in their own words with their own imagery. But first and foremost they want to be in control of their websites so that they can be reactive and flexible in making additions and modifications when it suited them, without having to wait or even request permission. Such is the way with Batemans Bay. They have the initiative, they know what they want to project and celebrate and they know how to do it. The hurdles that once stood in their path are all but gone and a new day is here that will add value to the experiences of visitors to the town and region, either by car or by cruise ship.

1 Comment

Unknown member
Mar 13, 2023

All very impressive but it is hoped visitors don't have to go to the loo while in the shire because the standrds of maintenance and (lack of) cleanliness and hygiene are digraceful - Tilba is an exception snd should be held up as an example for the rest.

If councillors ever have to use the facilities, one must worry about the standards they are willing to accept.


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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