11 September 2019

The future of Sapphire Coast tourism rolls on with a familiar face

| Ian Campbell
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Snorkelling at beautiful Tathra. Photo: SCT/Mitch Lovelock Instagram.

Snorkelling at beautiful Tathra. Photo: SCT/Mitch Lovelock Instagram.

A familiar face will continue to put the Sapphire Coast in front of people wanting a holiday, with Anthony Osborne selected to deliver tourism marketing services on behalf of the region until 2022.

The future of the local industry was turned upside down in mid-April when About Regional reported that Sapphire Coast Tourism (SCT) would not tender for the new contract.

SCT has been doing the job for almost a decade, but in a letter written to Bega Valley Shire Mayor, Kristy McBain and leaked to About Regional, SCT Chair Bruce Leaver expressed his frustration.

“It was felt that it would be unconscionable to submit a proposal [tender],” Mr Leaver wrote.

The tender documents prepared by Council for the open market point to a fixed price contract of $327,000, including $99,000 to be allocated to Visitor Information Centres.

Prior to the tender process, SCT provided advice to Council, suggesting ‘bare bones’ funding of $390,000, CPI adjusted each year for the next 10 was needed. Additionally, SCT presented an option where Council’s allocation topped $640,000 a year.

“$640,000 is still about one-third of the amount allocated by Eurobodalla [Shire Council],” Mr Leaver wrote.

Despite the unrest, three organisations did however tender for the new contract; Melbourne based Chatterbox Marketing, David Porter’s Goto Plus, and a new entity formed by current SCT Executive Officer, Anthony Osborne, who has been in the job for almost seven years.

Mayor Kristy McBain says it was Mr Osborne’s intimate knowledge of the local industry that set him apart.

“His answers were really strong on how he proposed to move forward with the branding of Sapphire Coast and how he would look to incorporate stakeholders into his strategic planning for the future.”

“Given the information provided by all three tenders, Councillors decided that his was the one that provided us with the best opportunity,” Cr McBain says.

“Anthony has been instrumental in achieving excellent outcomes for the local tourism industry and for the Shire more broadly, he won’t be starting from scratch which is a big bonus.”

Mr Osborne says he respects the work of the SCT Board and as such won’t be making too much comment at the moment.

“I feel privileged to have the opportunity to continue marketing this destination, but it’s not appropriate to say anything more than that at the moment,” he says.

“Once I take over on July 1 I’ll have more to say.”

SCT Chair, Bruce Leaver says the organisation will spend the next month winding up its operations and preparing for the hand over to Mr Osborne.

“Good luck to Anthony, he consulted with me and I encouraged him to tender,” Mr Leaver says.

“He’s got his job cut out for him, that amount [$327,000] will only allow him to deliver the basics.

“But knowing Anthony he will do it very well,” Mr Leaver says.

Anthony Osborne on the job with SCT in Hong Kong during 2017 with the Australian Tourism Export Council. Photo: SCT

Anthony Osborne on the job with SCT in Hong Kong during 2017 with the Australian Tourism Export Council. Photo: SCT.

Cr McBain says she is confident the money allocated by Council for the job is enough.

“We’ve had a number of discussions with Sapphire Coast Tourism; in the last three or four years we have given additional funds; when we had to go out to tender for the new contract they knew we could only put in the amount we collect through the specific special rate variation that covers marketing, tourism, and promotion of the Shire.”

Suggesting that Council gets good value for its investment Cr McBain says, “When you look at average dollar spend and the average nights stay, Bega Valley rates higher than Eurobodalla.”

Figures supplied by SCT show a 5% increase in visitor nights since 2013 and a 12% increase in tourist spending for the same period.

“What will now happen is that there will be more flexibility for Anthony to make decisions and liaise with Council without the approval of his board, they’ll be less constraints,” the Mayor says.

“Anthony will now prepare a new Destination Marketing Plan, and we’ll work closely with him on that.”

Mr Leaver says the challenges ahead are well known.

“This year for the first time ever in New South Wales the number of international visitor nights equalled the number of domestic visitor nights,” he says.

“International is growing at nearly 10% per year, domestic is growing at 0.09% per year, if you’re not in the international space you are going to really struggle.

“The figures for Sapphire Coast are 96% domestic [travellers] and 4% international [travellers], so we have really got to be agile and grow our international profile,” Mr Leaver says.

“If I was council I would be seriously planning for this significant change coming down the road; the money they put forward for tourism doesn’t cover that, that’s why we didn’t tender and we maintain that position.”

Cr McBain says the Sapphire Coast is well placed to make the most of the international market with Mr Osborne on board and some strategic relationships in place with Canberra Airport and the Melbourne to Sydney Coastal Drive.

The future of a number of specific grant-funded programs managed by SCT is yet to be determined, but Cr McBain says she expects most of them, including the post-bushfire marketing campaign for Tathra to be managed by Council after July 1.

“Because of the way some of those grants are structured they have to come back to a designated agency which will be Council, however, we are proposing that Cruise Eden will stay within tourism marketing operations,” Cr McBain says.

“Anthony Osborne has also proposed taking on Cruise Eden Coordinator, Natalie Godward for an additional 10 hours a week in a marketing and promotions role within his new business.”

Sapphire Coast Tourism will hold its Annual General Meeting before June 30, where the company and role of volunteer directors will formally dissolve.

The Mayor says Council’s budget for tourism marketing services will continue to be solely funded by business ratepayers through the special rate variation and that Visitor Information Centres will continue to be managed by volunteer organisations, with funding flowing through Mr Osborne.

*This article first appeared on RiotACT

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Secretary, Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA)1:40 pm 01 Jun 18

The Bega valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association (BVSRRA) believes that there are a number of problems with the tourism sector in the Bega Valley & they include …

• Bega Valley Shire Council has tipped between $3m-$4m of ratepayers’ funds into Sapphire Coast Tourism (SCT) over the past decade & it did so without ever bothering to set specific performance expectations & performance measures, while there has not been one independent performance assessment of SCT carried-out over that time.
• While Mr Leaver argues that the sector is underfunded, his SCT members contribute almost nothing in promoting the sector, while happily benefiting from ratepayer support; more particularly the unfortunate commercial business operators in our towns who supply the special rate variation, which does NOT include the accommodation providers or tourism operators, including caravan park operators.
While Mr Leaver is always ready to cry poor & point to Eurobodalla Shire as an example of what level of expenditure Bega Valley should be supporting, he neglects to mention that Eurobodalla operate a completely different model to the Bega Valley, with their tourism operation driven from ‘within house’ by Council, with the cost of paid employees both within the council & their Tourist Information Centres making-up a large proportion of their expenditure.
If Mr Leaver thinks SCT was so hard done by, how is it that his organisation had $100K sitting in the bank this time last year, $83K of which was recorded as ‘retained earnings’ in SCT’s accounts?
While the BVSRRA has asked council to confirm whether it will recover any unspent ratepayers’ funds from SCT, the only response thus far has been silence.
• Mr Leaver makes much out of the need to focus on developing the international tourism business, but his use of number is totally misleading. While he claims that there is higher growth in the international visitor space & therefore we should focus on that, the reality is that if the number of international visitors coming to the Bega valley was to grown by 10%, there would be another 2,500 visitors coming here, while if the number of domestic overnight visitors coming to the Bega Valley grew by 1%, that would be another 4,700 visitors coming here: still almost double.
We are not saying we shouldn’t be encouraging international visitors, but we are saying that we shouldn’t be doing that & forgetting where the bulk of our success is coming from.
What is of importance is the number of visitor nights & based on the international visitor growth suggested by Mr Leaver, a 10% increase in the number of visitors would generate an extra 10,000 visitor nights, while a 1% increase in domestic overnight visitors would generate 19,000 extra visitor nights.
• One of the biggest challenges in this debate is that everybody (SCT, Council) uses different statistics to make their point: there is no accepted reference point, so half the time gets wasted on arguing whose numbers are right. The BVSRRA has suggested that council should convene a Tourism Summit so that the future of the industry can be debated by the entire community & not just the usual small coterie who often have a vested interest. We think that is even more important if ratepayers are going to be expected to continue funding promotion of the sector. But so far, council has shown no interest in taking-up that suggestion.
• As to the reported claim by Cr McBain that “council’s budget for tourism marketing services will continue to be solely funded by business ratepayers through the special rate variation”, perhaps she should take a look at page 122 of the draft Delivery Program 2017-2021 & Operational Plan 2018-2019 placed on public exhibition by council only last week, which speculates that:
“Another goal of Council is to seek further funding for tourism and economic development from the financial year 2019-2020 of $300,000.
To enact the above initiatives, Council can apply for a special rate to vary general income by an amount greater than the annual rate peg, which has been forecasted to remain at 2.3%. Alternatively, they can be funded through reduced service levels in other areas or increased borrowings.”
• Definitely time for a real Tourism Summit to focus on agreeing what should be the real goals be for the sector & how we might all work together to achieve them for everyone’s benefit.
In the meantime, we wish Anthony Osborne every success.

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