Business community defends threatened Information Centre
A DECISION that could see Grafton's Visitor Information Centre close has enraged the city's business community, claims a Prince St shop owner.
Low Pressure Surf Co owner Noel Smith said many businesses are appalled at the decision, made at the last Clarence Valley Council meeting, that could close the information centre on the Pacific Hwy at South Grafton in the next three years.
He said the information centre played a vital role as a "front office" attracting people to the region.
"If this decision to close our tourist office eventuates, the flow-on effect to local business and industry will be detrimental," he said.
"This is a bad decision and the local community needs to be fully aware of its repercussions to the Valley."
Mr Smith said the cost to council of the centre is minimal as a levy from local businesses funds the centre.
"From everything I have heard from other businesses they are more than happy to continue paying the levy for the centre," he said.
Mr Smith said Clarence Valley Tourism Association member Laurie Marchant made a note of this situation at the last meeting.
"He asked if there would be a reduction in rates for commercial premises after the TIC closes," Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith said a proposal to replace the centre with a touch screen static display was doomed for disaster.
"How can an automated touch-screen static device convey the beauty of our valley to a visitor," he said. "The smell of a Jacaranda Festival, the emotion of a Highland Gathering, the crowd's roar at a Grafton Cup, the speed of a Bridge to Bridge or the serenity of the Clarence River?"
"When the highway upgrade is complete, the promotion of our area will be even more essential to the local economy and the best advice will always come from a passionate local person and not a box with pretty pictures and a recorded message."
His message is echoed by former CRTA manager Bill Day in a letter to the editor.
He described the lack of community consultation before the decision as "alarming".
"I cannot understand why the recently completed consultant's report was not released in draft form to allow general community input before adoption by the council," Mr Day wrote.
"There are so many items in this report that are not accurate or not relevant to tourism in the Clarence Valley."
The council made the decision to take control of tourism promotion back under its wing after considering a consultant's report.
Staff estimated this model would save the council $640,000 across four years should it shut the Grafton visitor centre and halve the staffing costs, in the process increasing the use of technology.
The council funds CRTA with $737,000 a year.
But in supporting the proposal, Mayor Richie Williamson denied it was about cutting costs.
"Can I state that CRTA has served the Clarence Valley well," he said.
"This is not a cost-cutting exercise. This is about looking into the future and what tourism services in the Clarence Valley will look like into the future."