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Clarence Valley tourism: on the savings trail

The visitor information centre at South Grafton will soon cease delivering tourism services in its existing form: people will be replaced with an information kiosk (touch screen) and the building will be leased to a third party. Image:
The delivery of tourism services in the Clarence Valley has been a contentious issue since Clarence Valley Council (CVC) began dissolving the mostly voluntarily run Clarence River Tourism Association (CRTA) in 2014. The CRTA was administered by an elected board of tourism industry operators and included two council representatives. The visitor information centres (VIC) at South Grafton and Maclean will soon be memories; instead, CVC is replacing them, largely by delivering and promoting tourism via digital means, notwithstanding the implementation of ‘pop-up’ information centres and utilising the mobile library van for (and during) key events and times. Clarence Valley Council began reorganising how tourism services are delivered on July 1, 2014, following the adoption of ‘Model 2’ from a review of tourism services completed by The Stafford Group. Under Model 2, CVC is in the process of “fully integrating tourism and visitor services [into CVC’s operations], rather than contracting out to a third party”. However, the projected savings outlined in Model 2 are not yet a part of the overall savings CVC is striving to make to meet its Fit for the Future obligations. In March 2014, when asked if the review’s projected savings over four years ($639,690 by June 2018) would result in cuts to the tourism budget, then general manager Scott Greensill said: “No, the intent is to maintain the same expenditure on tourism. “…While there could be savings, as indicated in the [Stafford Group] report, the intent is that we use those savings for other tourism activities.” The Independent put a series of questions to the council’s Economic Development Unit, which is responsible for CVC’s delivery of tourism services, seeking an update on how well it had met parameters set out in the review. Enlarging on Mr Greensill’s comment, CVC’s Strategic & Economic Planning manager David Morrison said in his emailed response that the councillors’ 2014 decision meant CVC had “resolved to operate tourism services itself by withdrawing funding of the CRTA”. As a result, the approximate annual $510,000 (indexed) expenditure was maintained over the past three years, “as funding for the operation of tourism services”, while transitioning to the new model. “During those three years, operational savings equated to about $50K,” Mr Morrison said. “These savings have been reinvested in developing a tourism strategy that was not in existence at the time that Council commenced the service, such as: branding; tourism industry development and marketing strategy; digital marketing strategy; as well as some specific promotional material, such as the canoe and kayak trail.” Meanwhile, CVC is now stating in its improvement strategies that savings of $528,536 will be realised by 2020/21 (this year $167,000, next year $208,880, 2019/20 $76,250 and in 2020/21 $76,406). Mr Morrison said these projected savings “broadly … reflect a change to a digital and dispersed delivery focus, as compared to the more traditional service based on static information centres”. “More specifically, the savings include closure of the two information centres, staff reduction of 2FTE [fulltime equivalent employees] and income generated by collaborative marketing in 17/18 [through the My Clarence Valley Business initiative], and a further 1 FTE staff reduction in 18/19. “These savings also include a rental income component over the four years for leasing of the South Grafton information centre.” At the August council meeting, councillors decided to defer consideration of leasing the South Grafton VIC to Olivers Real Foods “for a period of 1 month”, pending the issue being discussed at “the next councillor workshop”. In next week’s paper, the Independent takes a closer look at the implementation of CVC’s tourism strategies.