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Council to consider tourism handover

Wednesday, 10th September, 2014

By Andrew Robertson

A councillor has backed a suggestion that City Council hand over the running of the Visitors Information Centre to a proposed new tourism body.

Cr Bob Algate said giving up the VIC would provide a saving to Council at a time when it was facing a "critical period" financially.

A new report has come up with three options to give industry a greater say in the way tourism is run in the region, including the creation of a new regional tourism body.

The report's preferred option recommended the new body also take over the running of the VIC.

Under the option, Council would provide the premises rent-free and make annual financial contributions to the tourism board, which would employ staff to operate the VIC.

Regional Development Australia Far West chief executive Michael Williams said the report was a draft and had been sent back to its creators for further work. He expected a new report in a few weeks.

Cr Algate said Council needed to focus on its core assets and the VIC was a loss-making operation subsidised by ratepayers to the tune of hundreds of thousands of a
dollars a year.

He said Council once had the financial wherewithal to do the heavy lifting for the region's tourism industry "but things have changed dramatically in the last 10 years".

"It's not rocket science. You cannot continue to budget for deficits year in, year out."

While the current council workforce restructure would result in savings, the councillor said they would not be realised for another 18 months to two years.

Regardless, he said, further cost-cutting would be needed, and the council's funding of the tourism industry might be the place to start.

"I think something like $2 million (is spent by) Council annually and I don't think Council can afford to expend that amount of money.

"There's been a significant dropoff of people going to the Visitors Information Centre."

But Labor Councillor Darriea Turley said Council was not about to just "hand over" assets to another organisation and would need to carefully consider any options.

She said tourism needed more input from industry and the purpose of the report was to provide options for a way forward.

A fresh approach was also needed to try and boost visitors to the region and the length of time they stayed.

"If we continue to put our head in the sand we will be in the same position we are now."

Echoing comments by Cr Algate that visitors to the VIC were in decline, Cr Turley said advances in technology meant tourists' habits were changing and the industry needed to adapt.

"People are booking online and doing pre-research."

Another councillor said the VIC was a "very important" asset to the city and region's tourism industry and needed to be maintained.

But Christine Adams said whether or not it could be run in "a more financially viable way" remained to be seen.

"It's something that has to be looked at very carefully."

Council's general manager Therese Manns said Council supported the work that was now underway to identify options for an industry-led tourism body.

"Until the report is final it would be inappropriate to comment further, other than to say that as an organisation we want to see the best outcomes for Council, community and tourism operators."

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