Tracey Diddams | Specialist Consultant 

After almost three years of planning, Australian Regional Tourism are finally hosting their ‘annual’ Regional Tourism Conference in Ballarat. Master of Ceremonies and regional tourism business owner Gorgi Coghland started the event with the sentiments of the collective audience: ‘We are here. We can exhale. We can think, re-think, immerse and inspire each other to do and be better’. After over two long years of uncertainty, disruption and change, yes we are here. But tourism is not what it once was. 

The theme for this year’s Conference is ‘Regional Australia – Paving the way for a stronger Visitor Economy.’ And on day one, the sentiments are resounding. By strong, we aren’t talking about bums on seats, bods in beds or even dollars in our pockets. We are talking about people, communities and the special places they call home. We are talking about ensuring tourism is developed to match community needs and aspirations, that they are supported, and that our social, cultural and environmental impacts are respectfully managed.

So how do the ‘collective’ brains trust propose we do this?

  • ‘Measure – understand – grow’. Dr Garth Taylor (although according to him he isn’t a ‘real doctor’) from Tourism Research Australia (TRA) informed us about the statistical importance of tourism, an industry that touches all sectors and contributes to strong employment. It was exciting to hear that a new ‘counting’ framework is being created by TRA called LIVE (Longitudinal Indicators for the Visitor Economy) that at last will measure not only the bods in beds and dollars in pockets but also the social, environmental and carbon impacts of tourism. The dream is to have a live real-time platform that we can draw upon at any point in time to see the actual impact tourism is having on our destinations.
  • Thrive 2030 Visitor Economy Strategy was given a plug, a strategy informed and supported by all State and Territory Governments with the focus of providing both world leading visitor services and experiences and significant and sustainable benefits to the Australian community. All destinations, governments, communities and industry are strongly encouraged to align with the outcomes in this strategy which will lead to a united and connected tourism approach for Australia.
  • Providing employment and growing strong communities is all well and good, but our industry is facing an employment crisis currently – too many jobs, not enough staff to fill them. Employment in the tourism sector is estimated to be 15% behind where we were pre-COVID days…The Australian Chamber of Commerce is lobbying for change and in response has prepared the Draft Travel, Tourism, Hospitality, Accommodation and Events Workforce Development Strategy with recommendations to ease this burden, including identification of a range of labour markets and the government support required to attract and retain them.
  • And what about our young people – not only do we want them to seek exciting tourism careers, they are also very much desired and savvy target markets for destinations today. Unlike Generations Xers and ‘OK Boomers’, our youth no longer strain with heavy backpacks and carry travel bibles (aka Lonely Planet Guidebooks). Young people are worldly, wise and wealthy! The Young Tourism Network is an exceptional resource to ensure future planning of tourism is GOAT (you may need to look that one up) and designed by and for our youth.
  • Communities have been presented as truly the hero of any tourism story. The Town Team Movement is a social enterprise supporting and enabling local people to make a difference in their communities, their way. With over 110 towns across Australia subscribed to the movement, I encourage you to go online and look at some of the small (and big) projects that have been delivered by communities, improving liveability but also providing welcome and safe spaces for visitors. And don’t forget about the Visiting Friends and Relatives (VFR) of community members! This is a market worth an estimated $12B across Australia and when you’re proud of your community of course you want to show it off to those near and dear.
  • Phrase of the day – ‘Bullsh*t Bingo’…I’m not even sure what this means, but I love it. Presented by Marcus Falconer from Australia’s Golden Outback in reference to the plethora of acronyms, jargon and buzz words out there. Although the practical game sounds a bit messy, I’ll be sure to drop this phrase into a conversation sometime soon! Probably more relevant and appropriate to our host destination was likening the advent of COVID to panning and sifting for gold. It enabled the opportunity for all the rubble to sift away until we were left with the gold nuggets – the important and good stuff we want to keep and find more of.

And that was only day one! We still have two more days including a full day on the exciting future of agritourism. No doubt there are more gold nuggets yet to be discovered.