In NSW there are 128 local government areas each with unique attractions that lure visitors to the area. In a post COVID-19 world there is likely to continue to be reduced opportunities for overseas travel and a greater focus on domestic travel options. This makes it a great time for local councils to focus on how to attract visitors to the area. In other words, its time to focus on the visitor economy. But how exactly can local government enable, and even accelerate, their local visitor economy?
Visitor economy thinking
Australian Regional Tourism’s “Visitor Economy Thinking for Local Government” is a great resource to help identify the ways that local government intersects with the visitor economy. It advocates for a way of thinking that always puts the visitor first and highlights ten key areas for local government to focus on:
1. Infrastructure and assets
3. Planning – managing growth and impact
4. Environment – nature and culture
5. Visitor servicing
6. Events, festivals and conferences
7. Marketing and promotion
8. Collaboration and connectivity
9. Measurement and analysis, and
10. Community understanding
The document explores these ten areas in more detail. But how does this all fit together within a local council’s planning framework?
The tool for driving the visitor economy
A Destination Management Plan (or DMP) is a local council’s business plan for building and managing their visitor economy. The document captures and presents the information in a way that allows the sharing of information to manage and invest in the local area. There are four key steps to preparing an effective DMP:
1. Research & analysis
Most importantly, and fundamentally, councils should do a stocktake. What are the strengths and weaknesses of your local government area? Who is your audience? These two key questions, when answered, can help you target potential market opportunities. These opportunities can then be fleshed out through working collaboratively with neighbouring councils, regional bodies and State departments.
2. Consultative planning
Once ideas have been scoped out internally, discussing these with private operators and other forms of government can ensure a strong basis and consistent approach. It is likely that the industry not only has valuable insights into the visitor economy but can assist you in actualising your ideas. Conversely, there may be a way that you, or your DMP, can assist the industry that leads to greater outcomes. Collaboratively planning will ensure your ideas become robust before development.
3. Experience & product development
Now you have understood your audience, it is important to recognise what products are currently available and what is missing. There may be ways to improve or activate opportunities that don’t necessarily rely on council or public actions. Investment from the private sector may be able to lead the way in areas such as planning approvals, enabling infrastructure, training and skills development.
4. Marketing & promotions
Once you have developed your product or experience, your audience needs to be aware of what you are offering. Consider what your council’s role is in attracting and promoting facilities and work together with community groups and the private sector who can champion your efforts.
It is important to remember that a lot of these steps can be low cost and integrated with other priorities. Whilst having large and long-term plans is important, gradually building up to these types of investments is also perfectly fine.
Gain buy-in from up high to your visitor economy vision
If you do have a big idea, consider a process to gain buy-in from up high – get tourism into your local council’s long term plans. This could include:
- Embedding tourism into the Community Strategic Plan or similar
- Developing a simple Destination Management Plan / Tourism Strategy / Tourism Master Plan
- Considering opportunities for chipping away at product and experiences opportunities
- Developing programs and training for operators and others
- Considering specific projects and opportunities for grant funding
Reality testing your vision
Alongside enthusiasm and a willingness to get behind the visitor economy, there also needs to be a bit of a reality check. Critical to long-term growth and success in the visitor economy is to not over-promise and under-deliver. Arguably worse than having no-one turn up, is for everyone to arrive, be disappointed and word of mouth means that there is prolonged damage to your council’s reputation as a destination.
If you want to be a six-star destination, you’ll need to deliver on it. At the other end of the spectrum, promoting unspoilt and unique can also backfire.
So as part of gearing up to be visitor economy ready, take a moment to self-audit your process and offerings, identify your gaps and build up to your long-term goals. Establish the types of minimum standards that you would like to see and work towards these.
Getting tourists to match your expectations
Alongside the desire to attract tourism expenditure, it is also important to consider if you are attracting the right type of tourist. Always seek to portray your desired visitors in your marketing. Encourage your visitors to tread carefully, act sustainably, and respect the landscape and culture of your area. And in doing so, support other operators that match that message.
And finally, consider what social licence you have to attract visitors, what type of tourists might be best received in your community and how can their value to best appreciated. After all, your visitor’s experience is likely to reflect their interactions with locals.
Your local area likely has unique attractions and visitor experiences that are waiting to be tapped into. Beyond roads, rates and rubbish, local councils can play a critical role in enabling and progressing the visitor economy in their local area.
We have recently partnered with Australian Regional Tourism to deliver a webinar on the role of local government in the visitor economy. To discuss your visitor economy, contact Steve Thompson, Director – Planning & Strategy.