In 1983 Bill Day was appointed the manager of the Clarence River Tourist Association (CRTA), which was funded by valley’s five councils on a per-capita basis, business membership of the CRTA, advertising revenue from publications plus a small annual state government payment.
By the late 1980s, around 500 businesses were members.
In 1990/91, Mr Day gained the support of the former Grafton, Maclean and Ulmarra councils, which adopted SRVs (special rate variation), to fund staffing of a new visitor information centre at South Grafton.
That SRV, which Mr Day valued at about $200,000 in revenue this financial year, has since been absorbed into the broader business rate, according to Clarence Valley Council’s (CVC) environmental, planning & community director Des Schroder.
Mr Day managed the CRTA for two decades and over the past 11 years he has been a “highly successful sales and marketing manager” for O’Halloran Motors in Maclean.
During the consultation period for CVC’s 2017/18 budget and delivery program, Mr Day outlined a 10-point plan, The Way Forward, that he says would be superior to CVC implementing its largely digital delivery of tourism services.
However, despite Mr Day’s plan and continued lobbying behind the scenes, he remains frustrated.
“I hear that my criticisms of council’s tourism strategies are dismissed by some staff to councillors, as old-fashioned and out-of-touch,” he told the Independent.
On the management structure that CVC has adopted – tourism services are run by CVC’s economic development unit and a new tourism advisory committee is in the process of being formed. Mr Day argues that the inclusion of eight industry representatives on the committee amounts to an exclusion of management expertise from the valley’s broader business community.
“People like Bob Little (SPAR Maclean) who has won awards for his supermarket, best in the country,” he said. “Bob Thompson, local solicitor, who wrote constitutions and thing like that; management by business people who were at the top of their industries; great achievers.
“It had council representation as well, but it was management [by the CRTA board], not a tourism committee.”
Mr Day pointed out that the previous CVC tourism advisory committee failed to have a quorum at several meetings.
“In more than 20 years when I was managing the CRTA, we never once failed to get a quorum for a board meeting,” he said.
Mr Day is sceptical about the tourist visitor numbers released by the EDU.
“It used to be called the domestic tourism monitor,” he said, “and they’d do quarterly statistics on selected motels, caravan parks, etcetera; then use multiplier formulae to calculate bed nights and all sorts of information.
“It’s all very airy-fairy and the EDU likes to take credit for improvements: statistical variations that bear no resemblance to the truth – the only thing that matters in tourism is backsides in beds.
Independent: How can you say that?
“Well I know how they are collected and then they bring out information on things like visiting friends and relatives that are statistically almost impossible to nail down – no one fills in a form on friends and relatives.
“We used to measure our advertising and marketing campaigns by contacting the operators directly. We used to work very closely with those operators; the national statistics are so airy-fairy.”
He describes CVC’s recently published Clarity magazine as “a brilliant publication … a beautiful coffee table booklet”, but laments its lack of useful tourism information.
He cites the old model as more cost effective and wonders why CVC would not release information about how many magazines were printed and when and where they would be distributed.
“All of our visitor information books and guides were fully funded by advertising (the last colour book had a print-run of 180,000) and these were distributed by operators, neighbouring visitor information centres (VIC), etcetera.
“All of our publications used to be funded by the operators; how would we get them to pay for advertising if we couldn’t tell them what the print run and the distribution was and what the cost of advertising was?
“We distributed our material so every operator could get our town guides and local tourist books. The primary role was giving people information once they arrived.”
Independent: Why are people who say you are living in the past wrong?
“For the past 11 years I’ve been sales and marketing manager [at O’Halloran Motors] and I’ll put my record up against anybody else; I haven’t been in a cave living in the past; I’m still a very successful business person, and there’s not too many on the staff at council who’ve had a business connection,” he said.
Seemingly, however, CVC’s and councillors’ lack of interest in Mr Day’s ideas are a hurdle too high; when asked if he will be nominating for a position on the new tourism advisory committee, he replied: “Not if they get rid of the tourism information centres … if they destroy tourism, what’s the point?”