Dispute over regional funding escalates in NSW

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TTN: Comment – 15th June 2015

A dispute has broken out over regional tourism funding in NSW with a major regional tourism organisation effectively going on strike.

Will Creedon of Tourism Hunter says the current model of funding regional tourism does not work.

Mr Creedon took issue with the funding model in the Newcastle Herald on 11th June 2014 (that article reproduced below).

Destination NSW CEO Sandra Chipchase hit back at Mr Creedon, saying that a $1.6m scheme has been available to Tourism Hunter over the last two years.

As we all know though – $1.6m dollars in a dollar-for-dollar scheme is only of help if you already have $1.6m.

The dollar for dollar scheme is called the Regional Visitor Economy Fund (RVEF).

Many regional tourism organisations lack the organisational capacity to a) get $1.6m, b) hold onto $1.6m long enough to claim on the RVEF c) lack the professional resources to get major events off the ground when the organisations are effectively unfunded.

Ms Chipchase, in her response to the Hunter’s stance, quoted Regional Flagship Event promotion as a pillar of support. The problem there though is that all of the Hunter’s promotional monies go to glamourous wine and concert events in the Hunter Valley. No regional Flagship Events have been held in the city of Newcastle.

With the sitting Liberal government having cut the train line to the centre of Newcastle city in highly controversial circumstances, it is is Destination NSW’s CEO’s best interests to keep any tourism disadvantages faced by Newcastle on the down-low. (Short history: the city of Newcastle was divided on whether or not the train line should be cut to make way for future infrastructure and a major transport interchange; no alternative transport plan was put in place before the cut; the cut was made just months before Newcastle hosted soccer’s 2015 Asian Cup; and after the cut, found documents revealed the rail infrastructure that a cut would facilitate would cost $100m more than alternative infrastructure models.)

Tourism Hunter’s ultimatum: a sustainable regional model or ‘dormancy’

From The Newcastle Herald, 11th June 2015

THE Hunter’s principal tourism organisation has issued a stunning ultimatum to the state government, saying it will enter a period of ‘‘dormancy’’ and shut down all development, research and marketing until a sustainable regional tourism model is implemented.

It’s a bold move that will have ramifications for the 25,000 people employed in the industry and comes on the back of the highest tourism spending in the region on record and a 4.5 per cent increase in visitors during 2014.

But Tourism Hunter Chairman Will Creedon says the region should be aspiring for much more.

He has challenged the government to give the organisation the funding and tools to expand and said if successful the ploy could realise the region’s true tourism potential and help solve some of the Hunter’s unemployment woes.

‘‘We have fantastic destinations and products in the Hunter and we are the envy of the rest of the nation,’’ Mr Creedon said. ‘‘But what we are saying is, let’s take that to another level and to do that we have to change how we are doing things to achieve a different result, a better result.

‘‘The framework of how regional tourism organisations operate across the state needs to change and the only ones who can change that is the state government.

‘‘We have lacked the capacity to have a sustainable and consistent funding structure to truly bring together all the resources, stakeholders and organisations that critically impact on the strength and potential of our industry.

‘‘The industry has to play a part, but we are ready.

‘‘The local government has a role too, but they are ready to embark on strategic projects to achieve our future. The only ones who are missing presently is the state government. I don’t believe they will be missing long, but they are missing.”

The not-for-profit organisation is one of several regional tourism organisations across NSW that provide a link between the state government’s tourism arm Destination NSW, local government and tourism operators.

The volunteer Tourism Hunter board works predominantly on long-term strategy for the region and coordinating funding and has worked with the Port of Newcastle and Newcastle Airport to bring more visitors to the region as well as recently obtaining $1 million for the Hunter tourism industry to recover from the April storms.

But after a decade of fighting to secure consistent funding and a sustainable future the board resolved on Thursday to enter a period of ‘‘dormancy’’. The move goes into effect on July 1.

‘‘For too long, regions across NSW have been hampered by inconsistent capability funding,’’ Mr Creedon said.

Mr Creedon said there was ‘‘no doubt’’ the industry would suffer in the short-term, but said the board had a responsibility to ensure the region reached its potential.

‘‘This is not a decision we have made lightly, but we believe it is a decision that is right for the Hunter and right for businesses,’’ he said.

‘‘We are not resting on our laurels and protecting jobs, we are looking to grow the industry.’’

Overall, Hunter tourism has been solid over the past few years. The region registered 8.6 million visitors in 2014. It was a 4.5 per cent increase on the year before while the rest of the state grew just 0.3 per cent. But Mr Creedon said that 8.6 million visitors could be ‘‘13 or 14 million in the next four to five years’’ if the government provided effective structure. Tourism spending in the Hunter hit $2.2 billion in the year to September, 2014, the highest amount on record.

Mr Creedon said around NSW other regional tourism organisations were also questioning their future and place in the structure of tourism.

‘‘We are no different, we just happen to be leading the charge,’’ he said.

‘‘This has been coming for about 10 years and it takes guts to put an organisation into dormancy to achieve a better outcome.’’

State tourism body, Destination NSW fires back at Tourism Hunter

From The Newcastle Herald, 12th June 2015

THE state government’s tourism arm has fired back at Tourism Hunter Chairman Will Creedon, saying there has been money on the table for the region for the last two years but the organisation has been unable to secure support from the industry.

But Mr Creedon said Destination NSW was trying to ‘‘misdirect’’ the problem and had made the issue about money when it was about policy.

‘‘It’s a pity they have missed the point,’’ Mr Creedon said.

‘‘The problem is we have to create a new policy framework to set ourselves up to be consistently proactive and reach our potential.

‘‘The policy is wrong, let’s look at it and update it for the future – that is the problem.

‘‘You could put $100 million on the table tomorrow for a marketing campaign, but if we’re not allowed to touch it and there is no money to pay the person to coordinate it because of the policy framework then what good is it?’’

Regardless, Mr Creedon said his fight was not with Destination NSW but with policy makers.
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‘‘Destination NSW work to implement a policy created by the state government,’’ Mr Creedon said.

‘‘In this instance we have a poor regional tourism organisational structure policy.

‘‘Tourism Hunter is looking to the state government to create a policy that will lead to a sustainable regional tourism model so our region can reach its potential.

‘‘I have no doubt the tourism agency of NSW does its best to work within its framework. ‘‘This is not aimed at the agency, it’s aimed at fundamentally changing the policy and the model of tourism structure in regional NSW.’’

The Newcastle Herald reported on Friday that Tourism Hunter would enter a period of ‘‘dormancy’’ until a sustainable regional tourism model was implemented by the state government.

Destination NSW Chief Executive Sandra Chipchase responded on Friday by saying about $1.6 million had been on the table for Tourism Hunter to access for the past two years in matched dollar-for-dollar funding available under the government’s Regional Visitor Economy Fund (RVEF).

‘‘Over the last two financial years Tourism Hunter has only applied for 10.9 per cent of this available funding,’’ Ms Chipchase said.

‘‘Tourism Hunter has been unable to secure the support of the industry in order to gather funds to match those available from the NSW government, to support campaigns, develop a business plan and marketing activities and to appoint staff to coordinate their strategic and operational responsibilities.’’

Mr Creedon strongly disputed Tourism Hunter lacked the support of the industry and provided several messages from local tourism organisations who backed the organisation and the move to go into ‘‘dormancy’’.

Newcastle Tourism Industry Group Chairperson Matt Anderson told the Herald the organisation supported the need for reform.

‘‘While it is quiet dramatic there is definitely a need for change,’’ Mr Anderson said.

‘‘The regional tourism organisation situation as it exists needs to be improved.

‘‘And the move by Tourism Hunter will hopefully be the catalyst for change which wasn’t on the horizons prior to this move.’’

The Chairman of the Hunter Valley Wine Country Marketing Committee Philip Hele said what Tourism Hunter had done was ‘‘commendable’’.

‘‘We are disappointed that [Tourism Hunter] had to go into dormancy, but we will support what they are doing,’’ Mr Hele said.

‘‘The region needs a sustainable structure going forward and it is not there at the moment.

‘‘Everyone is chasing capacity funding but it’s not there. ‘‘That’s the level of funding where you can actually market the region rather than just keep the doors open.’’

Mr Creedon also provided an email on Friday from Destination Port Stephens Chairman Michael Aylmer who said he had his ‘‘total support’’ and that the region could ‘‘only benefit from this’’.

Mr Creedon also provided an email on Friday showing he had the ‘‘total support’’ of Destination Port Stephens Chairman Michael Aylmer.

Ms Chipchase said for the past two years Destination NSW had undertaken a number of ‘‘activities’’ at its own expense to assist the region.

‘‘Despite Tourism Hunter’s lack of action to access the funds available to them, Destination NSW has consistently promoted the region as one of the state’s major tourism destinations both domestically and internationally and is dedicated to seeing tourism prosper in this important part of the State’s visitor economy,’’ Ms Chipchase said.

Response from Sandra Chipchase, CEO Chief Executive Officer, Destination NSW

Dear Editor,

The claims made by the Hunter Regional Tourism Organisation (Tourism Hunter), which appeared in Sam Rigney’s article on Friday 12 June, (‘State ‘missing’ in tourism’) are incorrect.

Approximately $1.6 million has been on the table for the last two years for Tourism Hunter to access in matched dollar-for-dollar funding available for The Hunter Region under the NSW Government’s

Regional Visitor Economy Fund (RVEF). Over the last two financial years Tourism Hunter has only applied for 10.9 per cent of this available funding.

Tourism Hunter has been unable to secure the support of the industry in order to gather funds to match those available from the NSW Government, to support campaigns, develop a business plan and marketing activities, and to appoint staff to coordinate their strategic and operational responsibilities.

Over the past two years Destination NSW has undertaken a number of activities at its own expense to assist the Region, including providing a consultant to review The Hunter’s regional tourism structure and provide recommendations about how it might be better served.

Despite Tourism Hunter’s lack of action to access the funds available to them, Destination NSW has consistently promoted The Hunter Region as one of the State’s major tourism destinations both domestically and internationally, and is dedicated to seeing tourism prosper in this important part of the State’s visitor economy.

We have undertaken several cooperative marketing campaigns with other tourism groups including Port Stephens, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association, and invested in many major events and Regional Flagship Events in the Region.

In addition, Destination NSW, not Tourism Hunter, developed a proposal to the NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events for the recently announced $1 million in funding to assist the Region to recover following the recent storms.

I also met with hotels and accommodation providers in The Hunter on Friday to help develop a way forward for tourism in the Region.

As the State’s tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW remains focused on growing tourism across NSW and we are always willing to work with any group or groups that have as their objective the promotion of Newcastle and The Hunter.

Yours faithfully,

Sandra Chipchase, Chief Executive Officer, Destination NSW