FUTURE CV: Clarence, adventure tourism capital of Australia?
COULD the Clarence Valley become the premier adventure tourism destination in Australia?
When Grafton riverside precinct funding was announced in May, councillor Jason Kingsley cited the New Zealand experience as an example of what can be achieved in tourism.
"If you look at New Zealand, they got smart and they realised they had more to offer and adventure tourism is what attracts younger people there now," he said.
With that in mind, it is entirely possible the Valley could position itself as the place to go for white water rafting, surfing, canoeing, fishing, hiking and mountain biking.
There are examples - Queenstown being one - of areas that have been very successful at building a thriving tourism industry which the Valley could learn from.
Dr Susan Houge Mackenzie from the Department of Tourism at the University of Otago said an important part of growing the local tourism market was by ensuring it was community driven.
Otago had a relatively underdeveloped tourism industry and was close to the ever-growing Queenstown and Dr Houge Mackenzie said they were trying to focus on "value over volume".
"They want high-value visitors for experiences that are aligned with their community identity and value," she said.
"They want to build enough supply that makes it feasible for people to come, but focusing on high value so as to not let tourism run away with the things they love."
While the notion of identity was important for shaping how a community and an industry would position themselves, how various levels of government enabled businesses to operate would help grow it.
"There is a real culture of supporting entrepreneurs and those willing to take risks." she said
The Kayak Cluster
Promoting the kayaking and canoeing opportunities along the Nymboida, Mann and Clarence rivers was an initiative by Clarence Valley Council and key stakeholders, The Clarence Valley Canoe and Kayak Cluster.
Formed in response to the growing popularity of the river system, it had already secured funding for signage along the river to improve visitor safety.
Owner/operator of Wild River Canoes, David Copperthwaite praised the direction the council was taking and said it was important the council and business owners came together.
"I think there is a huge opportunity here and the Clarence Valley Council have been very proactive," he said.
Mr Copperthwaite ran kayak fishing tours - primarily catering to visitors from Sydney and Melbourne - throughout the region's river system and said the number of people utilising it was growing.
"Last season there were more people on the river than ever before," he said.
"But there is a huge amount of scope (for growth), especially up near the Mann, this is only the start of it."
"With like-minded people getting together and council on board we will see more people."
When considering tourism growth, Dr Houge Mackenzie said it was important not to idealise the outcomes and people should have a clear understanding of "what they were signing up for".
"Often we only look at the natural environment and at boosting visitor numbers, but you have to look at the social impacts too," she said.
"If an area grows too fast or if people move away because it becomes too expensive it might lose that feel that attracts people in the first place."
Planning and investing in infrastructure helped both manage growth and attract visitors and Mr Copperthwaite was keen to one day see a purpose-built centre on the Nymboida.
"In Queensland there are white water rafting centres and camps near the sites." he said.
Integrating space in and around the rivers was also important and Grafton Cycle Club vice-president Grant Hodgins said he would like to see more "connectivity".
"As far as adventure tourism, a connectivity from the river to the bush is what is missing," he said.
"Being able to have a paddle and then go on to an off-road route or walkway would be great."
Tapping into the adventure sport industry was also possible and after the success of the Geoquest and Adventurethon, Mr Hodgins saw potential.
He suggested creating courses visitors could compete in year round, using their GPS as proof of completion.
"We could encourage people to do a course in their own time and they might get a certificate at the end. These can become real goals for people to seek out and complete," he said.
"The white water canoe trail is perfect for that."