Organisers of South Coast festivals could be forced to pull the pin on their events following the State Government’s decision to scrap components of its Regional Event Fund and Regional Business Event Development Fund this week.
Tourism and business events across the Illawarra, Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla regions rely on the State Government funding to help them get off the ground, and to cover the costs of things such as insurance, traffic control and marketing.
Despite organisers applying for and being allocated funds for their upcoming events, many have been told this week that the funding is no longer available.
South Coast Tourism Board president Michelle Bishop said industry operators were “first alarmed by the ‘hold’ on State Government funding announcements for tourism, via Destination NSW, until after the 19 September budget”.
“Recently we have been alerted by local operators that the regional event funding and product development funding has been cut, although no official notice of this has been provided to the industry, just to the businesses who it had been awarded to or had applied,” she said.
“The Shoalhaven, Eurobodalla and Bega Shire Councils have had cooperative marketing funds for offseason marketing campaigns for over a decade. This is the first year none were received.”
Ms Bishop said the regional visitor economy was a key employer and driver of local economies.
“We urge the State Government to prioritise investment in our sector ahead of the release of the State Budget,” she added.
The state has previously funded dozens of events such as Dressage by the Sea at Bawley Point, the Four Winds Easter Festival at Bermagui, Kiama’s KISS Arts Festival, the Narooma Oyster Festival, SeeChange Jervis Bay and the South Coast Food and Wine Festival and more.
It has also provided funding for business events and conferences that are usually held midweek or in the offseason, injecting millions of dollars into local economies.
Long-time tourism industry leader and founder of the Shoalhaven River Festival Catherine Shields said business events were the highest yielding sector in the local visitor economy.
“Business people come to regional areas and spend the most money on dining out, shopping and local experiences, so it’s a big blow to lose these business events,” she said.
“These conferences usually happen in the off-peak time, which is exactly what we need to build a sustainable visitor economy in NSW.”
When it comes to festivals, Ms Shields said a successful event could “really put a town on the tourism map”.
“I just don’t think the Government understands just how important events are to regional areas. Towns rely on these events,” she said.
“These festivals are quite often set up and run by a group of passionate volunteers and, without the funding, it can be quite difficult for them to get off the ground.”
She said local people in regional areas looked forward to events which were often a highlight of their calendar year.
River of Art chair Leanne Joyce, said Moruya’s flagship event had been unable to secure funding support this year, despite attracting 12,500 visitors to the region in 2022.
“Over recent years the NSW Government has provided regional events, event development and previously, triennial funding,” she said.
“River of Art relies on volunteers, donations, corporate sponsorship and funding to support the regional arts scene though its annual 10-day festival which is held in September.”
Narooma Rocks chair and organiser of the Narooma Oyster Festival Cath Peachey said, while the popular event was fortunate to have received an election commitment over the next three years, it wouldn’t be enough.
“We are applying for other grants and seeking corporate support so that we can continue to deliver the festival to a standard that people expect and continue to deliver meaningful benefits to the regional economy,” she said.
Member for Kiama Gareth Ward said the Labor Government was “hurting local business, jobs and our economy”, despite the “desperate pleas of local stakeholders within our regional development industry”.
However, Minister for Jobs and Tourism John Graham said, in October 2022, the former Liberal government cut “$100 million from the State Significant Event Fund and never announced it”, which “created a shortfall that required other parts of the Destination NSW budget to be used to save major events”.
“As a result, these funds have had to be discontinued or a change in scope,” he said.
“In the current fiscal environment, the NSW Government is making prudent but difficult decisions in order to keep the best teachers in our schools, support people who are struggling to afford the basic cost of living and reduce wait times for healthcare.”
The Regional Event Fund identifies and supports events in regional NSW which act as a cornerstone for flagship tourism events by attracting overnight visitation and delivering long-term benefits for regional areas.
The NSW Regional Business Event Development Fund is designed to help stakeholders create, attract and support exciting business events for regional NSW and to support new business event initiatives.
“Since it was established in 1996, the fund has supported more than 440 individual events across regional NSW,” Mr Ward said.
According to the State Government, there are three streams in the Regional Event Fund and only the ‘Incubator’ stream has been discontinued. The ‘Flagship’ and ‘Development’ streams will continue because these are existing events.
Minister for the Illawarra and South Coast Ryan Park responded to concerns by stating “the Minns Labor Government has a clear focus on managing our finances responsibly so we can provide support to the communities who need it and improve the essential services that we all rely on, now and in the future”.
Original Article published by Katrina Condie on Region Illawarra.