Cr Ros Heit, Jason Kinsella (Moffatdale Ridge), Julie Thomson (Kingaroy Country Motel) and Matthew Mott (Matthew Mott Sports Fishing Charters) gathered together to chat after the Tourism Review meeting … operators want an industry-led local tourism organisation and believe Council’s efforts are failing
It has emerged that articles in the ‘Let’s Go South Burnett’ tourist magazine released in July were written under pseudonyms

November 8, 2018

South Burnett tourism operators will hold a meeting in December to propose alternatives to the South Burnett Regional Council’s handling of tourism promotion over the past 15 months.

At a Tourism Review meeting held at the 1913 Council Chambers in Kingaroy on Thursday night, a dozen local tourism operators said they were disturbed about the path being pursued by Council since it split from the regional tourism organisation, Southern Queensland Country Tourism (SQCT), in August 2017.

The operators said they had received less than 24 hours notice of Thursday’s meeting – which was called to discuss marketing plans for the next 12 months – even though Economic Development Officer Craig Tunley admitted he had begun discussing it within Council a month ago.

They thought attendance would have been much higher if adequate notice had been given, and expressed their annoyance this had not happened.

The operators said they had just experienced one of the worst years local tourism had seen, and wanted to know where Council had spent the $60,000-a-year it formerly paid to belong to SQCT.

Mr Tunley said his office had spent:

  • $24,350 hiring a PR consultancy for three months;
  • $4500 for representation at the South Queensland Caravan, Camping, Fishing & 4×4 Expo at Nambour in April; and
  • $25,360 to print 50,000 copies of the 20-page “Let’s Go South Burnett” tourist magazine and insert it in two editions of the Sunshine Coast Daily.

Operators asked what happened to the remaining $5790.

Mr Tunley said Council had to spend $2000 to cancel its membership of SQCT, and the remaining funds had gone back into Council’s general revenue.

“Does this mean that in 12 months you couldn’t think of something to spend our $3790 on to promote local tourism?” South Burnett Wine Industry Association president Jason Kinsella asked.

Mr Tunley said he hadn’t used the excess money so it had been seconded for other purposes by Council at the end of the 2017-18 Budget period.

The “Let’s Go South Burnett” magazine also came under fire.

“Can you confirm to me that all of the names linked to the articles in that document are actually the person who wrote that article?” Mr Kinsella asked.

Mr Tunley replied no, he could not.

“So you lied? You misled? You made up names because it didn’t look good? That’s pretty disturbing,” Mr Kinsella said.

“No, they are not made-up names,” Mr Tunley replied. “They (the articles) are written by a ghost writer and it’s attributed to another name.”

“Did you feel the need to let anyone know that?” Mr Kinsella said.

“You have a ‘wine expert’ listed in there who is absolutely that – a ghost. I’ve searched for them and they don’t exist. And yet you have them there telling our visitors that they have a credibility they simply don’t have. That is misleading.”

Other criticisms were that unlike the well-established South Burnett Touring Guide, most operators had not been told about the project or given any opportunity to have a say in its content before it was produced.

Mr Kinsella said he had been told Tourism portfolio chair Cr Danita Potter had only received a copy of the magazine when it was on its way to the printers, and was denied any opportunity to have input into it herself.

He also knew most tourism operators were only asked for their opinion after almost all copies had been distributed.

The strongest criticism levelled at the publication was that it had picked “favourites” and promoted non-regional events such as the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival while ignoring the majority of the region’s operators and successful, long-established local events.

Quizzed about industry involvement, Mr Tunley agreed he had received little or no industry buy-in from local tourist operators over the past 12 months.

“So following on from that, the proposal that Visit South Burnett brought to you about an industry-based LTO (local tourism organisation) that would have worked with Council and would have been member-based … would it be fair to say that looking back that would have been a better idea?” Mr Kinsella asked.

Mr Tunley said that had not been his decision to make.

Mr Kinsella accused Council of cherry-picking a handful of operators and events to promote, sowing the seeds of division in the industry.

In the end, the meeting voted to reconvene in four weeks at Wooroolin Hall so local tourism operators could suggest a new path forward for 2019 in time to capitalise on the start of next year’s peak tourism season.

The meeting will be held at 6:00pm on Thursday, December 6.

Visit South Burnett members John Bjelke-Petersen (Bethany Cottages), Heath Sander (Murgon Music Muster) and Neil Black (Pioneer Lodge Motel)

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6 Responses to "Crisis Meeting For Tourism Operators"

  1. Rosemary Pratt  November 9, 2018

    Where does South Burnett Directions fit into this picture?

  2. Keith Campbell  November 9, 2018

    I look forward to opening up this debate to the wider South Burnett community for them to have their say to! I’m not convinced this is a majority view.

    The money that was previously paid to Southern Queensland Country Tourism was not for the benefit of private tourism operators only. There’s hundreds of businesses in the South Burnett that benefit from us growing the number of tourists that visit the South Burnett and our neighbouring regions. These funds primarily promote the entire South Burnet to the outside world, irrespective of what is sold or offered by individual businesses. The leverage occurs when each private business, including those who define themselves as tourism businesses, do their own promotion and shape their products in line with their customer’s expectations.

    It is easy to lay the blame at Mr Tunley’s feet and infer that he lied and picked “favourites” in a recent magazine. The truth will make its way to the surface in due course. Insulting the integrity of the South Burnett Regional Council is perhaps the easiest option for those who believe ratepayer funds should benefit just a few instead of the many businesses across this wonderful region.

    The matter of the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival was supported by all six Councillor plus myself when it came to a vote. One Councillor objected after the vote and canvassed community opinion based on an incorrect, or an unwillingness to understand the facts of the project on foot at the time.

    Personally, I believe that the brand – “Discover South Burnett” is a productive strategy and is delivering ongoing positive results. It’s early days!

    I see the uptake of many local businesses and individuals using the hashtag #discoversouthburnett in their social media posts. It’s a brand that Council is proud to support because it promotes unity and provides room for individuality of expression by towns and businesses across the region.

    I appreciate the efforts of the current operators just as much as I support the efforts of every other business in the South Burnett that services tourism and visitors to our great South Burnett. The proposal brought to Council by “Visit South Burnett” in the form of an LTO (local tourism organisation) was not accepted by Council in its original form as the way to increase visitors and dollars into the region. Personally, I think they can, however the absence of a unifying vision that inspires all South Burnett businesses to be on the tourism bus still concerns me. My personal position has always been clear – promote the entirety of the South Burnett, it’s businesses and its ability to encourage new business activity to grow and be proud ambassadors of the South Burnett and our valued neighbours and I will do what I can to support that commitment. Tourists don’t stop at the LGA boundary – they’re on their own journey!

    For now SBRC is committed to growing the brand “South Burnett” and be behind unifying and productive initiatives that attract more new business to absorb unemployment and create a more prosperous and resilient South Burnett. Who is up for it?

  3. Jane Erkens  November 10, 2018

    As manager of the Nanango RV Park, I am concerned that we are never notified of meetings that are related to tourism.

  4. Damien Tessmann  November 10, 2018

    Ronald Reagan famously said ‘the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help’. I have followed this debate about the need for a Local Tourism Organisation (LTO) for years and believe both the need and the time have long passed for the creation of such a body. This region has numerous successful tourism businesses and operators who make a living out of tourism, the fact that Council has not embraced these identities has always remains a mystery to me (yes even when I was there). Council staff are important but the industry knowledge and experience on the ground here is invaluable.

    Jason Kinsella (for example) was a milk tanker driver who collected milk from my family’s dairy for years. He spent years picking up milk whilst developing up a successful tourism business that now brings countless people to our region. Surely utilising whatever contribution he has would be an asset to furthering tourism, not lessening it? I know for a fact the other people photographed in this story have similar stories and contributions to make.

    The region has been let down by Regional Tourism Organisations (RTO) previously which is why we have shifted between at least two (Wide Bay & Toowoomba); we just don’t have a natural home in an RTO. Council has always placed too much faith in these RTOs and not enough in actual tourism operators and the tourists themselves. If an LTO was created, Council could set very tight KPI’s for it to meet and have final approval in all expending of funds, much like it does with the numerous advisory committees that it currently engages with. Calling on this group to ‘put up or shut up’ would sort the wheat from the chaff but I’m pretty sure we’d end up with plenty of wheat.

    As an under 40 I honestly think the days of paper based advertising for tourism (such as the magazine in question) are long gone. Last year I travelled to New Zealand and relied on apps, up-to-date government and private websites and the GPS reviews for information as to where we went. We only went into one VIC because it was attached to a war museum, otherwise we would not have gone into one at all. Taking the funds Council pours into the RTO and creating incentives for existing tourism businesses to create or update websites makes more sense.

    Whilst there is a role for VICs for perhaps an older demographic (although I still seriously doubt this, as there are ever-increasing tech savvy older travellers) Council still seems content to not seriously engage with my demographic in promoting our region. The numerous couples I know in my own circles living in the southeast corner, who are looking for weekend getaway destinations and who haven’t immediately associated our region as a destination says to me there is a market we are missing out on. Tasking an LTO made up of wineries, farm stays, accommodation providers, publicans and tech savvy locals to increase this demographic visiting our region seems like a no-brainer, not something to hide from and scoff at.

    And finally, the fact that we have so many events occurring locally wanting exposure, it seems strange we’d promote an albeit terrific event like the Goomeri Pumpkin Festival when they’ve got a Council not quite double our size to help them. That doesn’t make sense to me either. Just sayin’.

  5. Heath Sander  November 14, 2018

    I was at this meeting to voice my concerns about why I was told by the person who runs the Discover South Burnett Facebook page in an email that an event run by the Rotary Club of Murgon – the Murgon Music Muster – did not meet the criteria to be shared on the page. She named Mr Tunley and said we would have to discuss it with him.

    This year the Muster attracted 600 people from outside our region every day for six days. I am so disappointed that the South Burnett’s tourism manager could not recognise the economic benefits this brought to businesses in Murgon and surrounding areas during that period.

    Rotary does a lot of good for a lot of people. All proceeds from this event get donated to local and national charities, so I was shocked that I had to contact Council’s CEO to have Mr Tunley agree to share the Murgon Music Muster just once on Discover South Burnett’s Facebook page. Yet certain businesses can cook a roast and Discover South Burnett will share and promote that.

    My experience leads me to think that if you are friends with the people who control this page, then you will have your business or event promoted.

  6. Rob Langford  November 23, 2018

    The harsh reality is that Tarong and Meandu Mine are not going to last forever.

    Developing a region as a destination takes time.

    There is a window of opportunity to get the South Burnett on the map as Brisbane’s backyard. There are around 1000 people per week moving to south-east Queensland who don’t know we exist.

    It’s never been more urgent to get the marketing right to get tourists up here as a weekend destination. We are about the same drive as it is to Stanthorpe, go figure.

    We all have a vested interest in the South Burnett. Isn’t it about time that the “egos are left at the door” and some constructive conversation can occur.

    It’s time to put the swords down and play nice.


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