July 23, 2020
Local tourism group Visit South Burnett (VSB) is seeking $140,000 from the South Burnett Regional Council to hire its own tourism officer after councillors decided not to fund the position in their recent Budget.
The 2020-21 Budget also did not include funding for an Economic Development Manager.
VSB believes the region risks missing out on reaping the benefits of a post COVID-19 tourism boom – and the new jobs that would flow from that – effectively consigning the South Burnett to the “end of the queue” when it comes to pandemic recovery.
It fears the South Burnett is facing a looming recession after September when the Federal Government begins to withdraw its income support programs.
These were the grim messages delivered at the first general meeting of Visit South Burnett, held in Yarraman on Tuesday night.
The Local Tourism Organisation’s membership has grown to more than 75 since it incorporated earlier this year – including both tourism operators and local businesses that recognise “tourism is everyone’s business”.
VSB said it had drawn up plans to hire a full-time Tourism Development Officer and to drive the direction of the region’s tourism marketing efforts.
These had been undertaken by the South Burnett Regional Council over the past few years in the absence of a local tourism organisation.
VSB president Jason Kinsella told the 40 people in attendance the South Burnett was perfectly positioned to take advantage of a post-pandemic tourism boom, and there were already indications it had begun.
He said Brisbane residents and interstate visitors were frustrated by pandemic restrictions that had kept them locked up at home, or within a short driving distance of their homes, for several months.
They were now eager to take holidays within an easy drive of Brisbane, and the South Burnett was a safe destination just a few hours drive away.
Mr Kinsella said it was important for the region to capitalise on the boom because it was highly likely the South Burnett would go into recession from September onwards when Federal Government income supports were cut.
Historically, he said, the region’s unemployment levels were always a few points higher than the State average but job creation was the most reliable way to stave off economic collapse.
“One of the biggest advantages of tourism is that it has the ability to create lots of jobs and do that very quickly,” Mr Kinsella said.
“Our region will need those new jobs, and that’s why we’re asking the South Burnett Regional Council to support our efforts.”
Mr Kinsella warned the South Burnett was not alone in this.
He said neighbouring Councils were investing heavily in tourism promotion and economic development because they all faced the same problems.
If the South Burnett did not do the same, it risked being overlooked when tourists chose where to visit.
Mr Kinsella said over the past few years the Council had typically spent between $120,000 and $180,000 a year on destination marketing, as well as employing an Economic Development Officer and a Tourism Officer.
VSB was seeking $140,000 a year from the Council, or roughly 40 per cent of what Council had been spending until its most recent Budget.
The group proposed using $80,000 of this to hire a Tourism Development Officer who would not be confined to working Council office hours and would have performance targets to meet.
The balance would be spent on destination marketing (ie. marketing that sold the entire region as a desirable place for tourists to visit, not just the virtues of individual tourism operators).
Mayor Brett Otto, Deputy Mayor Gavin Jones, Economic Development portfolio chair Cr Kirstie Schumacher and Council CEO Mark Pitt were at the meeting.
Mayor Otto told the meeting Council was willing to discuss VSB’s proposal, but it was incorrect to say all neighbouring Councils were ramping up their tourism promotion efforts.
He had talked with the North Burnett Regional Council recently and found they were cutting their tourism expenditure to zero, he said.
Council scheduled a meeting with VSB on Wednesday to hear the group’s ideas and will make a decision on the group’s proposal at the August General Meeting.
* * *
VSB will be holding a second meeting for members in the northern end of the region at Wondai’s Hotel Cecil on Tuesday, July 28.
This meeting will start at 6:00pm and is open to both members and potential new members.
A $10 meeting fee will apply to cover finger food.