Contiki boss at symposium
TOURISM businesses on the Northern Rivers must work together if the industry is to survive and flourish, says John Anderson, the founder of one of the world's most successful travel companies, Contiki.
He is heading to the region this month for the Northern Rivers Tourism Symposium.
And he says he has plenty of advice for small and medium business owners.
"I started out with 25 pounds and a minibus," Mr Anderson said.
"Contiki just grew and grew until it became international and now more than two million people have been on a tour.
"But you need to think outside the square.
"I love your part of the world.
"So this symposium is a wonderful opportunity for me to talk to tourism businesses about what they can do.
"I realise that times have been tough. Prices are tight and profitability is very limited.
"And in tough times, people make excuses.
"But I will not be giving a lecture.
"I just want the tourism industry to realise that people have got to have more than one reason to visit an area.
"There is no way that people will ever get sick of going to somewhere like Byron Bay. There are new people every day who are new customers.
"Unfortunately, some business owners can't see the wood for the trees.
"They scratch their heads, wondering what they should do and where it's going wrong.
"That's why it is just so important for people to work together."
Northern Rivers Tourism chief executive Russell Mills said he was thrilled to have speakers such as Mr Anderson coming to the symposium, which will be held at Southern Cross University in Lismore on October 17 and 18.
He said the industry needed a boost.
"We have been hit by economic troubles but I think that, overall, we have proved to be resilient," Mr Mills said.
"This symposium is really our commitment to the tourism industry that we are doing something, and that the future of the industry is important."
The event's keynote speaker will be the head of Tourism Australia, Andrew McEvoy. He will talk about the potential of the Northern Rivers region by 2020.
"It is time to start looking at the region's great assets and how to capitalise on them and conserve them," Mr McEvoy said.
"On the Northern Rivers, you've got everything that people travel for - beaches, rainforests, the hinterland, wellness and spirituality, wildlife, great organic food and the creative arts.
"Into the future, the real growth for this area will come from international visitors - the young travellers, people on working-holiday visas and the back-packers.
"But for now we've got to fish where the fish are. The domestic market will always be the staple.
"We also need to look at devel- oping products that appeal to the upmarket visitors.
"New things create new reasons for people to come here."
And while Mr McEvoy admitted that the strong Australian dollar had troubled the local tourism industry, he said those within the industry had to learn to focus on what they could control.
"I think people have used the dollar as an excuse," he said.
"The bottom line is, if you can't control it, don't worry about it.
"Just do what you do best - provide fantastic experiences for visitors in your region."
For more information about the Northern Rivers tourism symposium, visit www.tourismsymposium.com.au.