LETTER TO THE EDITOR
I was disappointed to read that a meeting between tourism providers and councillors and council officers last Thursday evening was reported in The Courier as "Angry rift continues over Visit Ballarat's future".
It was unfortunate that the councillors arrived to a hostile reception from tourism operators. Our elected representatives are responsible on our behalf for the financial management of this city.
Ratepayers are entitled to know the details of Visit Ballarat's expenditure, and in particular for its "Made of Ballarat" campaign. Is it, and has it been, a sound investment for Ballarat? Made of Ballarat is a campaign, not a brand, and whoever convinced them otherwise is very sadly mistaken. This campaign was the polar opposite of the family market, tourism's bread and butter, where we get the best bang for our bucks.
The universal role of tourism is fundamentally to provide sustainable economic development. The Andrews government is soon to announce innovative ways to grow tourism and support regional Victoria after a review into the regional tourism industry is completed in September.
Tourism, Sport and Major Events Minister Martin Pakula has stated that tourism is one of regional Victoria's most important industries, with 40 per cent of total tourism employment based outside Melbourne, which creates jobs and helps local economies to thrive.
In fact, regional Victoria is unrivalled when it comes to things to do, see, explore and taste, yet international visitors make up just three per cent of overnight visitors to the regions compared to 22 per cent in Melbourne.
What is seriously concerning is that overnight stays in Ballarat have decreased by 40 per cent for international tourists and by almost 12 per cent for domestic visitors in the same time frame. At least the council is concerned and acting to rectify this appalling situation.
Tourism research is vital for Ballarat's development and growth of its associated businesses.
Ballarat businesses and the community are all beneficiaries of tourism. It's job is to attract visitation and interest in our city. It is the role of tourism operators to get bodies in beds and bums on seats - to cafes, restaurants, theatres and our attractions.
Tourism businesses must be their own drawcard; they can't expect their marketing to be all done by a peak body. Tourism businesses and the peak body's promotion of the region must deliver on their promises, which, frankly, at the moment are hit and miss in Ballarat.
We must return to spending ratepayers' money wisely.
Added to this is a need to take a serious look at customer service. The feedback I receive is that, generally, it is mediocre at best in our city. Of course, there are some who do a great job, but are sadly let down by many who don't!
I recently stated that Ballarat's peak tourism body, Visit Ballarat, needed to review past research, particularly the joint undertaking by the then Ballarat Tourism Board in partnership with Sovereign Hill in 1995 when the respected agency Clemenger was commissioned to review Ballarat's tourism industry.
At the time, it was Sovereign Hill's visionary Peter Hiscock and Ballarat Tourism's team, led by Andrew McEvoy and Erin Lightfoot, that provided the skill, drive and energy to spearhead the tourism reforms needed at the time.
At that time, there was also a successful, productive partnership in council between the economic development and tourism units - one complemented the other, and that is what must happen now!
May I suggest we ask both respected tourism luminaries Andrew McEvoy and Erin Lightfoot to help us move forward.
We need to revisit "Brand Ballarat", stop the backbiting and work together - if we stand united, the visitors will come; if we're divided, visitors will avoid our great city. Ballarat's peak tourism body is about marketing. It's the true and tried principle of the 4Ps - product, packaging, price and promotion.
We must return to spending ratepayers' money wisely, ensuring that expenditure on tourism is an investment for Ballarat and the region, with measurable results essential.
And to attract and motivate visitors to Ballarat and surrounds - domestic and international - build equity in the brand "Ballarat" and attract positive discussion, public relations and business engagement.
I have worked in the tourism industry and have been a hospitality business owner, a major event manager, and a manager of a significant tourism attraction with its (Eureka's) potential still to be fully realised.
It is now time to justify the spend and cost of delivery for tourism. Ballarat is the third-largest inland city in Australia.
Let's have a united front to kickstart tourism in Ballarat. Eureka is alive and well! The battle for Ballarat continues.
Ron Egeberg is a Soldiers Hill resident