2 December 2021

A tale of two towns: Batemans Bay visitor centre moves online, while Merimbula information centre needs more volunteers

| Tom McGann
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Batemans Bay Visitor Centre For Sale

The Batemans Bay Visitor Centre is on the market. Photo: Tom McGann.

While the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s visitor centre in Batemans Bay has a “for sale” sign adorning its exterior, further down the coast at Merimbula, theirs is screaming out for volunteers to help deal with an anticipated influx of travellers this holiday season.

February 21 was the final day the doors opened at the Batemans Bay information centre with the high-profile CBD site now for lease or sale.

Tourists seeking assistance will now have to access the Eurobodalla Tourism website where they can browse various links and pages which hold details on activities they can enjoy around the shire, or visit one of council’s business partners.

Eurobodalla Shire Council closed both the Batemans Bay and Narooma visitors centres after a review of their services revealed fewer than 10 per cent of visitors used them.

“The visitor information centre was set up decades ago when people made travel decisions quite differently,” a council spokesperson said.

“Websites, social media and personal recommendations are now by far the most popular source of visitor information both prior and during a trip.”

READ ALSO Bushfires and COVID shift Eurobodalla election focus to environment, transparency and economic recovery

While that’s the approach in the Eurobodalla, the situation could not be more different further down the coast in Merimbula where the visitor centre is looking for 10 new volunteers to prepare for what’s expected to be a very busy holiday season.

Tourism Manager for Merimbula, Chris Nicholls, could not disagree more with the Eurobodalla Shire Council’s decision, saying with lockdowns now over, Sydneysiders are eager to travel these holidays making visitor centres more essential than ever to welcome guests to the town.

“In a normal year, we would have 40 to 50 thousand people come to our visitor centre,” Mr Nicholls said.

Anticipating how busy this season will be, Mr Nicholls cannot understand why the Batemans Bay visitor centre has closed.

“It makes no sense to me,” he said.

“Visitor centres need person-to-person communication; many visitors will ask staff what is best to do in the area and the local staff are filled with knowledge to tell them about the area. You just can’t do that online.”

 The Merimbula Visitor Information Centre

The Merimbula Visitor Information Centre is located at CentrePoint Square in Market Street, Merimbula. Photo: Supplied.

Mr Nicholls stressed the point that personal interactions are highly important.

He has seen first-hand in his town and information centre how visitors will talk to volunteers and locals to gather information on the region, various recreational activities they can do, natural and beautiful environments they can visit and different spots for them to eat.

“We do have online platforms but we find people will still call our visitor centre to talk to locals and have that conversation,” he said.

“It’s something visitors to the Bay will miss.”

Not only will this decision change the way in which visitors to the town will discover what they can do, but it will also take away a simple, yet important factor according to Chris Nicholls – a nice welcome.

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Without the friendly hello from a local at the centre, visitors will be left to a webpage to read on their own.

“It doesn’t sound wildly important, but many holiday-goers appreciate that welcoming,” Mr Nicholls said.

“It makes them feel part of the town.”

If visitors were to go to the Batemans Bay information centre now, they will be met with nothing but an empty building for sale and a QR code on the old entrance which will take them to the website.

“It just won’t be the same – visitors want to ask locals what to do in the area, not read a website,” Mr Nicholls said.

Despite this, Eurobodalla Shire Council is stressing the website will work just as well as the original visitor centre.

“The new model is about taking visitor information to where visitors are, rather than expecting them to come to a physical centre,” the spokesperson said.

“The new model focuses on our visiting friends and relatives market – engaging with locals and providing them with information on where to take visitors.”

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First time in four years back in BB and disappointed that the centre has closed.
Think online info is essential, but as essential is the face to face contact and chat with knowledgeable locals.
21st century modernisation gone wrong

Mark Greaves9:05 am 07 Dec 21

A well run Visitor Centre is an essential part of a destination’s DNA – they are the retail shop front for all tourism operators and tourism experiences and they showcase what there is to see and do in the region with help from knowledgeable passionate local staff or volunteers who are Story Tellers in their own right. Tourism is an emotive industry where people engage with each other, it is not a commodity that can be dealt with remotely: there are not too many people businesses which operate without a personal structure in place and tourism of all industries requires this.

Just how many locals and businesses have the time or knowledge to cover the questions tourists to the area have? As grey nomads my husband and I always called into the local tourist information office for up to date info on what to see, where to eat, where to camp , condition of roads and safety questions. Just who would we be able ask now. Who are the experts? Just someone we stop in the street? A busy shopkeeper?

Merrie Hamilton9:49 am 29 Nov 21

I am very disappointed & frustrated that our Council saw fit to close the Batemans Bay Visitors Centre. And is selling our Community Centre. It makes no sense to me. What public amenity will we have left?

We love visiting the staffed,very helpful information centres when we travel.Its a lovely introduction to visiting families. Were disappointed when we find they don’t have a visitors centre. Typical that the commercial focus of Eurobodalla Shire Council means they’re getting rid if anything friendly and inviting that doesn’t make money for them.

Paul Sweeney7:58 pm 26 Nov 21

Why would ESC worry about pesky visitors?

What a shame Eurobodalla Shire Council does not have a tourism Manager like Chris Nicholls of Merimbula. Having worked as a volunteer at Narooma Visitor Information Centre for 5 years all his points are valid. Eurobodalla Council pretends they did a legitimate survey to determine how many visitors visited the Information Centre. How can you call a survey which stood outside Woolworths in Narooma and asked people to call back to a number at a later date to express their views as legitimate? How many visitors would be outside Woolworths. It is extremely distressing to see the Narooma Visitor Centre closed and visitors unable to visit the Lighthouse Museum. MACS have requested to keep it open for 3 to 4 days a week as volunteers but have been told by Council they have put it up for lease. We shall see how soon it is leased.

ESC were quite happy to charge us $100.00 a year to advertise our businesses, but couldn’t be bothered consulting us about the possible closure, let alone return all of our advertising material. The fact that there’s now a QR code on the door isn’t surprising, as it is yet another thing that ESC hasn’t bothered telling anybody about. So much for representing the local community and its businesses!

We live in Batemans Bay & had the privilege to visit Merimbula last weekend. What an amazing, beautiful, friendly & vibrant town. It was so busy, the staff in the shops & people on the street were happy & so friendly. The town is presented so beautifully, flowers everywhere, clean & tidy, it rained the whole time but it didn’t dampen our experience at all.

There are seats & tables all along the foreshore for people to sit & contemplate the views & just enjoy the town, so many cafes & shops. You can see & admire the thought & effort that has gone into the infrastructure, a town to be congratulated on its lifestyle & presentation. I can only feel sad & so disappointed for the residents & visitors of Batemans Bay that it is not anywhere in the same league as Merimbula.

As avid travellers of Australia, the first stop for us to any town is the Information Centre, it’s a chance to meet some locals & gain their knowledge of their town. For a tourist destination the size of Batemans Bay NOT to have an information centre just goes to show the shortsighted vision of our councillors. After our upcoming election the newly newly appointed councillors should visit towns such as Merimbula, even Gladstone & Townsville to see how evolving & prosperous towns are enhancing the lifestyle for residents & visitors alike.

The new bridge has taken a step to introduce the Bay to a new era, it’s up to the councillors as leaders to continue the journey & ensure our town will get better & prosper, not just stagnant & become an old, broken town.

Backward decision by a backward council.

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