The City of Ballarat Council is cutting short its agreement with its tourism and marketing arm Visit Ballarat, it announced yesterday.
Ballarat Regional Tourism, which trades as Visit Ballarat and provides tourism services and marketing to the area, has been run at arm's length from the council since 2012.
There is still 12 months left on a three-year service arrangement established following a council vote in 2017.
The agreement had been scheduled to run until next June, but yesterday Visit Ballarat issued a statement saying it would now be terminated by September 30 this year.
According to Paul Armstrong, the chair of the 12-member Visit Ballarat board, the decision of whether to retain a recent rebrand will be worked out during the three-month transition period.
He also said the organisation had recently finalised a five-year strategic plan and it is unclear how much of that will be adopted when tourism services go in-house.
We're disappointed it has come to this, but we do respect the right of council to make the decision - whilst we don't necessarily agree with it.Paul Armstrong, chair Visit Ballarat board
"But we do respect the right of council to make the decision - whilst we don't necessarily agree with it."
He said the focus would be on staff in the meantime.
The decision was taken by the City of Ballarat Council after what the officers say was an extended review period.
Council, which had outlined $2.78 million in this year's budget for Visit Ballarat, will resume responsibility for tourism services along with its existing remit to deliver festivals and events.
Ballarat Regional Tourism is a not-for profit incorporated association, with more than 300 members - but its most significant funding comes from the City of Ballarat.
Justine Linley, the City of Ballarat Council CEO, said yesterday that she did not expect the decision to come at a cost the ratepayer but was a question of negotiating a transition between the council and Visit Ballarat.
Visit Ballarat currently employs a total of 16 full and part-time staff, The Courier was told.
It is unclear exactly how many of those jobs will be lost, and how many could transfer in-house to the City of Ballarat Council, although Angelique Lush, the council's director of development and planning, said the council team would expand. This would include a post as "co-oordinator of the visitor economy," she said.
The volunteers who work for Visit Ballarat would transfer back to the Council's responsibility. The operation of the visitor centre in the town hall will not be affected by the changes, Ms Linley said.
The current Visit Ballarat CEO Noel Dempsey was not available for comment last night, apart from issuing a short statement. He was installed as CEO in 2016.
Several new events have come to Ballarat in recent years, including White Nights, and most recently Spilt Milk.
Ms Linley said the move was no reflection on the job being done by staff at Visit Ballarat, who she said had been "doing a really good job in difficult circumstances".
The City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh said: "We feel that with the model we have, there is a lot of duplication, which is a lot of extra expense as well.
"When we look at the extra layers it has, it is not delivering back to the same degree as the money we are spending."
Last month, Visit Ballarat changed its name to "Made of Ballarat" to stress the number of artisans working in the city, and broaden its appeal to Melbourne visitors.
Ballarat is thought to generate more tourism in Victoria than any other regional city. Visitors accounted for an average of $444 million of spending annually in the Ballarat region over the past four years according to Tourism Research Australia figures. Sovereign Hill remains by far the biggest draw.
Cr McIntosh and Ms Linley said work was under way on a new in-house council marketing strategy called "Ballarat is Open", which they hoped would reach a wider range of businesses.
"At the moment there is the tourism body and the tourism businesses involved and not necessarily the involvement from the broader spectrum of Ballarat," Cr McIntosh said.
One manager of a Ballarat tourism business who belongs to Visit Ballarat said the decision came as a surprise and had thought that Visit Ballarat was doing a good job - although they were critical of a recent re-brand.
- Any thoughts on this story? Please contact The Courier's council reporter Jolyon Attwooll.
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