Meet the woman tasked with helping Ballarat gets its fair share of the tourist dollar.
Natalie O'Brien spent her first day at the helm of the Ballarat Regional Tourism (BRT) on Wednesday.
The Melbourne-based consultant was announced as the organisation's CEO last week at a time of change. With a regional tourism review under way in Victoria and council having recently removed its funding for Visit Ballarat - which used to operate as the city's arm's length tourism marketing organisation - the landscape is shifting noticeably both locally and across the state.
While the City of Ballarat now has marketing responsibilities in house, BRT is in place to make sure the local tourism and hospitality industry has a strong voice. Its chairman Iain Gunn said that Ms O'Brien was an obvious choice.
Immersed in the industry - she was the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival CEO and has an Order of Australia for services to tourism - Ms O'Brien has impressive credentials.
On her first morning in the job, she said dealing with the changes at "a really interesting time for regional tourism" was part of the appeal.
The set-up of BRT was also a draw, she said. "I was really attracted to the fact that the board was made up of people who run businesses, and were really pragmatic, strategic and commercial."
I have a real appreciation of the opportunities and the challenges for regional Victoria to get their fair share of the tourism dollarsNatalie O'Brien
With the regional tourist review a big focus, her role - currently two days a week - is slated to last at least until that process concludes.
Looking at how to improve the organisation of regional tourism, the review is also looking to increase international spending and private investment.
Ms O'Brien plans to do as much as she can to hear the views of people in the industry and advocate on their behalf - both to the City of Ballarat and the state.
While aware of the earlier contention behind the council decision to cut funding to Visit Ballarat, she is looking forward to productive conversations. She said council officers had already welcomed her to the role.
"Ballarat Regional Tourism represents the product and the experience," she said. "It's really important that is part of the messaging and storytelling through council."
"In terms of what I would like to bring to the job, I certainly have an understanding of regional tourism, I grew up in regional Victoria, in Geelong, in a family involved in hospitality," she said.
"I have a real appreciation of the opportunities and the challenges for regional Victoria to get their fair share of the tourism dollars."
The campaign for world heritage status for the Goldfields region is worthwhile, she believes - although it is unlikely to figure much, if at all, in her day-to-day role.
"I think it is a positive thing. Unesco has a global brand and reach. Hopefully over the long term it builds profile and visitation."
As for her views on Ballarat itself, she describes the area as "an incredible destination". She has the inevitable childhood memories of Sovereign Hill but says its architecture and gardens are a personal favourite.
"I have been to Begonia Festival. I loved arriving with these beautiful roses along the main drag," she said. "I am also looking forward to testing the burgeoning food and drink scene."
HOW WE HAVE COVERED BALLARAT TOURISM CHANGES
- Visit Ballarat/ Made of Ballarat to be taken over by council
- Visit Ballarat changes rattle tourism professionals
- Angry rift continues over Visit Ballarat future
- State govt criticises council's decision to cut Visit Ballarat ties
- First consultation of Regional Tourism Review held in Ballarat
- Council launches recruitment drive part funded by former Visit Ballarat
- Big leap in day-trippers coming to Ballarat
- New "Ballarat ambassador" roles launched for city
- Ballarat Regional Tourism to continue despite funding cut
- Public called to contribute to 'design thinking workshops' for new Ballarat is Open strategy
- Overnight visitors to Ballarat surge
- Ballarat Regional Tourism new CEO Natalie O'Brien appointed
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