THE Hunter’s principal tourism organisation has issued a stunning ultimatum to the state government, saying it will enter a period of ‘‘dormancy’’ and shut down all development, research and marketing until a sustainable regional tourism model is implemented.
It’s a bold move that will have ramifications for the 25,000 people employed in the industry and comes on the back of the highest tourism spending in the region on record and a 4.5 per cent increase in visitors during 2014.
But Tourism Hunter Chairman Will Creedon says the region should be aspiring for much more.
He has challenged the government to give the organisation the funding and tools to expand and said if successful the ploy could realise the region’s true tourism potential and help solve some of the Hunter’s unemployment woes.
‘‘We have fantastic destinations and products in the Hunter and we are the envy of the rest of the nation,’’ Mr Creedon said. ‘‘But what we are saying is, let’s take that to another level and to do that we have to change how we are doing things to achieve a different result, a better result.
‘‘The framework of how regional tourism organisations operate across the state needs to change and the only ones who can change that is the state government.
‘‘We have lacked the capacity to have a sustainable and consistent funding structure to truly bring together all the resources, stakeholders and organisations that critically impact on the strength and potential of our industry.
‘‘The industry has to play a part, but we are ready.
‘‘The local government has a role too, but they are ready to embark on strategic projects to achieve our future. The only ones who are missing presently is the state government. I don’t believe they will be missing long, but they are missing."
The not-for-profit organisation is one of several regional tourism organisations across NSW that provide a link between the state government’s tourism arm Destination NSW, local government and tourism operators.
The volunteer Tourism Hunter board works predominantly on long-term strategy for the region and coordinating funding and has worked with the Port of Newcastle and Newcastle Airport to bring more visitors to the region as well as recently obtaining $1 million for the Hunter tourism industry to recover from the April storms.
But after a decade of fighting to secure consistent funding and a sustainable future the board resolved on Thursday to enter a period of ‘‘dormancy’’. The move goes into effect on July 1.
‘‘For too long, regions across NSW have been hampered by inconsistent capability funding,’’ Mr Creedon said.
Mr Creedon said there was ‘‘no doubt’’ the industry would suffer in the short-term, but said the board had a responsibility to ensure the region reached its potential.
‘‘This is not a decision we have made lightly, but we believe it is a decision that is right for the Hunter and right for businesses,’’ he said.
‘‘We are not resting on our laurels and protecting jobs, we are looking to grow the industry.’’
Overall, Hunter tourism has been solid over the past few years. The region registered 8.6 million visitors in 2014. It was a 4.5 per cent increase on the year before while the rest of the state grew just 0.3 per cent. But Mr Creedon said that 8.6 million visitors could be ‘‘13 or 14 million in the next four to five years’’ if the government provided effective structure. Tourism spending in the Hunter hit $2.2 billion in the year to September, 2014, the highest amount on record.
Mr Creedon said around NSW other regional tourism organisations were also questioning their future and place in the structure of tourism.
‘‘We are no different, we just happen to be leading the charge,’’ he said.
‘‘This has been coming for about 10 years and it takes guts to put an organisation into dormancy to achieve a better outcome.’’