Clarence Valley Council representatives have recently been seeking media attention to major increases in visitor numbers to this area due to the Pacific Highway upgrades and the Jacaranda Festival.
However they keep very quiet about their plan to close the South Grafton Visitor Information Centre (VIC) before Christmas, transfer the tourism staff into the council chambers and then place this valuable real estate on the market.
For decades local tourism services were administered by a committee of leading local business people working in partnership with council and it was one of the most successful in Australia.
Land for the VIC was obtained from the State government; the VIC was built with community, State and council funding; award-winning tourism books and maps were fully funded by advertising and were distributed via all local motels and caravan parks as well as the VIC.
In 1990/91 our local commercial ratepayers agreed to pay a Special Rate Variation (SRV) to help fund 7 day staffing at the VIC and this was paid in lieu of membership fees to the Tourism Association. This SRV was not paid by pensioners, farmers or residential ratepayers….it was collected by councils from commercial ratepayers and passed on to the Tourism Association.
In 2013 our Council sacked the business people who had volunteered their time to manage local tourism services so successfully for so many years and Council took direct control.
It’s been a total disaster.
Visitor numbers to the VIC have nose-dived….the printed material that council offers is ineffective and costs local ratepayers tens of thousands of dollars….council has installed expensive touchscreen hubs at various locations and these are being shunned by visitors….Council has introduced a “membership” scheme for local tourism operators, costing thousands of dollars per year, and it has been a total failure….Council has tried to set up tourism advisory committees and these have been total failures…..Council proposes to use staff in pop-up information booths and their trials have been hopeless…Council proposes to send staff on the library bus on some weekends to try to locate visitors on local beaches (I’m assured this is not a joke)…..Council proposes to transfer information staff in council chambers where there is no adequate parking or visitor facilities….in nearly 5 years, Council has not developed a local tourism app for a smart phone or tablet….
The list goes on and on…..and so does the cost…..huge increases in costs to the local ratepayer for dramatically less results for local tourism.
But wait…..Council has a solution……continue to collect the old tourism SRV but now spend it however council sees fit….PLUS introduce a new SRV and make everyone pay it including pensioners, farmers and residential ratepayers.
It seems crazy that a council that has proven to be totally unable to manage its finances now suggests to its ratepayers that if they pay even more rates this same council will suddenly become competent and efficient. Tragically, our council is addicted to spending without regard to anyone’s ability to pay their rate bill.
I urge all local people to get ready to contact IPART after this council makes application for the latest SRV.
Former manager CRTA
Former councillor Maclean Shire Council