Tourism in turmoil

THE head of the region's peak tourism body has fired the latest salvo in the battle over marketing and promotions, telling Granite Belt operators they behave “as though they are God's gift to tourism”.

Margaret Cairns, who chairs Southern Downs Granite Belt Regional Tourism (SDGBRT), spoke to the Daily News after the first of a series of meetings to thrash out reforms to the complex structure of tourism bodies charged with promoting Warwick and Stanthorpe.

The outspoken Mrs Cairns, who runs Goomburra Forest Retreat north of Warwick, was reacting to criticism from Stanthorpe operators fed up with having to pay separate annual fees to both SDGBRT and to their local body Granite Belt Wine Tourism (GBWT).

GBWT is an official body recognised by State Government agency Tourism Queensland and differs from Warwick's local promoter Warwick Tourism and Events, which is a council agency.

Mrs Cairns conceded some Granite Belt tourism businesses felt her regional body was “useless” but insisted its role was critical.

“Tourism Queensland only funds regional tourism organisations like SDGBRT, not local ones,” she said.

“We get $200,000 a year in base funding, plus additional grants for specific projects – recently there was a total of $530,000 granted to eight regional bodies to re-vamp their websites.

“Granite Belt operators grumble that we cannot guarantee funding for the next three to five years, but who can do that in any industry?

“They just think they're God's gift to tourism.”

Mrs Cairns said ideally there would be one regional body to which all affiliated Southern Downs tourism businesses paid a membership fee, but with separate marketing “desks” for Warwick and Stanthorpe.

This is a sentiment echoed by Warwick Tourism and Events chief executive officer Bev Marston, who urged those with ideas for a better model to come forward during a public meeting tonight.

“Our current models are not perfect – to make things better you need to have input, so it'll be interesting to see what the public thinks,” Mrs Marston said.

She said many tourism operators were “unhappy” with the council's proposed restructure model, which was “put together without industry consultation”.

“Basically there are two major issues which need to be sorted – one, the running of the Visitor Information Centres (VICs) and two, the running of the Local Tourism Organisations and the Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs),” Mrs Marston said.

“Our RTO (Mrs Cairns' group SDGBRT) is one of the smallest – we should be working with Golden West and Boonah to be a size to compete with the Gold Coast.”

Part of the council's new restructure talks about taking away the responsibility of the VICs from the RTO.

“This is a good idea as the RTOs should be talking to ministers and applying for major funding, not worrying about who's putting brochures in the VICs,” Mrs Marston said.

Another part of the proposed restructure is taking the “events” part of Warwick Tourism and Events and handing it back to council.

“If the events are put back under council it would be a nightmare with all the red tape, whereas now I can just make things happen along with my skill-based board,” Mrs Marston said.

“From my point of view I'm not scared of change but certainly not change for change's sake – the meetings will certainly give me an opportunity to have some input tourism-wise.”

Your say

  • Have your say on the tourism restructure at the Warwick Senior Citizens rooms today from 6pm. There will be a meeting earlier at 3pm for tourism operators and stakeholders.


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