Inside story: Why tourism boss resigned
FIVE days ago the Gold Coast's top tourism leader was meeting with one of the city's top business leaders about the future.
Today Annaliese Battista has finished up as CEO of Destination Gold Coast, cleared out her desk and nobody will say exactly why.
Ms Battista, who served in the role for two years, has been praised as a "warrior for the city" who was never afraid to speak her mind and ruffle Federal and State Government feathers when needed. She also played a key role in securing emergency funding for the tourism sector in the face of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic.
She resigned effective immediately on Tuesday morning, blindsiding political and business figures.
Shocked Gold Coast Central Chamber of Commerce president Martin Hall called her "a warrior for the city".
"I was just meeting with her on Thursday last week and we were looking forward to working with Annaliese into the future, so this comes as a huge shock," he said.
"We shared a lot of solidarity with her over issues such as the border reopening and over the council budget."
Ms Battista, 40, said: "I'm incredibly privileged to have led Destination Gold Coast over the past two years. I am immensely proud of what we have achieved together during this time. It is a fantastic organisation with a strong volunteer Board and a dedicated team of professional staff.
"My decision to resign was in close consultation with the board. I am grateful for their support and guidance."
Destination Gold Coast chairman Paul Donovan said: "She resigned, (the board) accepted that and we wish her all the best in the future.
"We thank Annaliese for all she has done for Destination Gold Coast.
"The organisation will continue to do what it has been doing, to try and get as many people to come to the region and spend more money and stay longer.
"I'm still there as chairman, we have a board that's the best you could put together and all the staff in place doing what they do."
Ex-CEO Martin Winter announced his resignation in February, 2018 - effective after April's Commonwealth Games - five months after crossing swords with then Federal Tourism Minister Steven Ciobo. Asked how he was feeling after two CEOs had left in two years under a cloud, Mr Donovan said: "There has been no cloudy circumstances. Martin was there for 10 years and it was the end of his contract. Then Annaliese was recruited and she has …"
Asked if the board had attempted to persuade Ms Battista to stay, Mr Donovan declined to comment: "I'm not saying anything more. It's commercial in confidence everything that happened in that meeting. What I have told you and what she has told you is all that we will say - and I ask you to respect that."
Destination Gold Coast will launch a search for a replacement but the departure is so sudden Mr Donovan admitted no schedule was in place.
Deputies Miles Roper and Carla Anderson will head the council-funded marketing body - which gets $15 million a year - in the meantime.
A city tourism industry insider, quizzed on the departure timing in the middle of a pandemic when the tourism sector would be key to economic recovery, said: "With the border closed internationally and all but closed interstate, we can only promote intrastate and to South Australia so is it really the worst time? There is no international, interstate, Northern Territory, ACT, Victoria, NSW."
Ms Battista was picked for the job in what at the time Mr Donovan trumpeted as one of the most exhaustive recruitment processes he'd been through to ensure the best candidate possible got the position. She came from City of Perth, where she had started as communications and marketing boss before rising to economic development and activations director. At one point she was made City of Perth acting CEO during management turmoil.
In her two years on the Gold Coast she became well-known as a fierce advocate for tourism who was not afraid to fight for city.
In September 2019 she used her address to the Bulletin Future Gold Coast Forum to call on State Government to commit greater tourism funding. She has been a staunch advocate for a convention centre upgrade.
In January she was the first civic leader to grasp the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, describing it as a looming "existential crisis" for the tourism capital and successfully fought to secure emergency relief funding from State Government and Gold Coast City Council for tourism.
Industry figures and city sources said her strong advocacy had left Ms Battista on the outer at times with the State Government and City Hall. She was not invited to a pandemic response roundtable when Ms Palaszczuk met Gold Coast tourism and business leaders in May.
The council declined to give Destination Gold Coast extra funding for post-pandemic marketing despite having her deliver two presentations.
"She got both council and the state really off-side," one source said. "There were a lot of people at the Bundall council chambers who did not like Annaliese speaking her mind."
Mayor Tom Tate said the search for a replacement was critical: "I would like to thank Annaliese for her service to our city and wish her the best.
"It's crucial that recruitment for this vital role commence immediately to ensure no opportunities are lost during this important period."
Originally published as Inside story: Why tourism boss resigned