We all know tourism is an important part of the Noosa economy, but when did the tail start wagging the dog?
Is this particular sectional interest group serving its own interests at the expense of the community?
To try to answer these and other relevant questions, let’s first set the scene.
Last year Noosa Council decided on a fundamental change to the way it would fund Tourism Noosa’s major revenue item of $2.5 million. Instead of a levy on local business properties, it would come from general rates. Not from business, but your money and mine.
But Tourism Noosa felt ambushed, made a lot of noise and extracted hasty promises that Council would ‘consult’ with them for a further 12-months. Meanwhile, the money tap was left on.
Now, briefly rewind to the 1990’s, when the small tourism promotion body in Noosa was funded by members and a modest Council grant. The major problem for the local economy in those days was visitor seasonality. Some months it cost money to keep business doors open, but closing was bad for Noosa’s reputation as a visitor destination.
Noosa Council funded initiatives at that time to develop significant community events like the jazz festival in the ‘slow’ months that would also attract visitors. Marketing for a few years was also specifically designed and delivered to attract overseas high-yield visitors, the ‘gold’ for tourism miners.
Even back then residents did not want more visitors in the crowded, peak holiday periods.
Continuing pressure from business in the 1990s for more funding resulted in the introduction of the tourism levy on business properties. This led to the rise and expansion of Tourism Noosa through levy funding that rose to $2,500,000 last financial year.
Council then abandoned the levy and instead gave Tourism Noosa its bag of cash from general rates this financial year.
That brings us to what’s going to happen in the financial year about to start. Are negotiations foreshadowed by a Council resolution last year underway? Is the community going to be asked how much of their rate money should be given to Tourism Noosa?
Surely the first question should be this; what is the value to the community of allocating rate money to activities of Tourism Noosa? That should lead to an examination of their current activities, because there have been significant changes in the last 20 years.
There has been a huge increase in visitor numbers, which is affecting the lifestyle of many residents.
If the promotional activities of Tourism Noosa increase those numbers, is that a positive or a negative? Will it get to the stage where Noosa is not considered to be an alternative to other locations, just a competitor? Or has it already got to that stage for many?
There has also been a big change to the seasonality issue. The chart provided by Tourism Noosa in their Tourism Strategy Noosa 2017-22 now shows a reasonable spread across months of the year.
Notably this Tourism Strategy document had as a key target ‘Identify, target and attract new events’. No doubt many residents adversely affected by events already will question how that activity fits with the Tourism Noosa core value of ‘Create a sense of family with the Noosa community’.
So it appears the seasonality issue is about as good as it’s likely to get. Many would argue that Noosa can’t afford to continually increase annual visitor numbers. Large spending on tourist promotion in the future could even be counter-productive.
It’s time for a genuine conversation about how much and what kind of tourism we now need, what the real costs are to our lifestyle and environment. Ratepayers who are heavily subsidising the industry MUST have a voice in this conversation about the place they live in.
It’s time this dog started wagging its own tail.