Councillors have rejected a proposal by Cr Andrew Baker to cease funding “tourism promotion and advertising functions”.
Instead, Cr Baker sought to spend that money on “tourist-related public amenity improvements and provision of pride-of-place projects”.
At last week’s Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, Cr Debrah Novak seconded Cr Baker’s motion after initial calls by the mayor Cr Jim Simmons were met with silence.
Councillor Baker argued that the $547,000 budgeted for tourism and destination development – “we were led to believe that would be improved upon by $107,000; as of today I understand not $1 has been found” – was wasted because “visitor numbers are already booming around here”, including people working on the highway and bridge works.
“For now, the tourism development money will be better value used on local enhancement work,” he said.
“We should direct that money for the next few years into maintaining and freshening up our place, make some improvements and show real pride in our public presence.”
He criticised the lack of interest from tourism businesses to create an advisory committee. “What about eight of you tourism people join a tourism committee?” he asked rhetorically, pointing out that only two nominations were received.
On his notice of motion (NOM), Cr Baker said: “You’d expect the tourist businesspeople or the business chambers to be vocal about this proposal if they see no merit in it.
“I’ve received emails or letters from four people only.”
Councillor Peter Ellem said: “If Cr Baker’s notice of motion is successful today, four of our tourism staff will be told just weeks before Christmas that they will be out of a job by June 30 next year; so he and any other councillor who supports him will be targeting those staff and their families.”
He highlighted cuts to the “tourism budget from $547,000 a year to $301,000” achieved “mainly by closing [the] visitor information centres in South Grafton and Maclean, which once served us well but which don’t get much foot traffic through them” over recent times.
“Not a popular decision but we agreed that we would move to a digital delivery model underpinned by a new website – myclarencevalley.com – with a tourism presence in council chamber foyers in Grafton and Maclean, and printed brochures and maps,” he said.
“This was a strategic move meant to strike a good balance; it needs more time before we can judge it a success or failure.
“…We also know that more than 420 local businesses have participated in the tourism cluster’s workshops in the past year or so, to improve their skills and those of their employees.”
Councillor Debrah Novak said Cr Baker was “very brave” to raise the issue and that “people have misunderstood what he was trying to achieve”.
Councillor Karen Toms said there was “no way” she would support the NOM.
“You [Cr Baker] say we are already full; that’s not my experience,” she said.
“We might be overrun with workers [but] we need to nurture and grow tourism, [but] not turn into a Byron Bay.”
Councillor Richie Williams said some parts of Cr Baker’s NOM “are valid”, however, he was “firmly of the opinion” that “moving away from bricks and mortar” and replacing it with CVC’s digital delivery of tourism services and promotion was the right way to go.
Mayor Jim Simmons didn’t support the NOM but he did congratulate Cr Baker for raising the issue so councillors could consider the “good and negative points” of CVC’s management of tourism.
Only Cr Novak supported the NOM; Cr Lysaught was absent (he apologised and left earlier during the meeting).