Letter to the Editor - Friday, November 22: Promoting tourism

IF PEOPLE are not aware that we exist, then they will never come and visit. Without exposure (and facilities), the Clarence Valley will continue to be a tourism backwater, "a gap in the map".

When I produced my first lighthouse book, I convinced AusPost to issue their lighthouse stamps, with which I was involved, at the same time as my book. They agreed. Publicity-wise, and hence sales-wise, that was a bonanza.

When I released my Sceptical Global Warming book, nobody would touch it. Ten Easy Ways to Give Yourself Leprosy would have had more exposure.

Promotion of the Clarence Valley seems to be a failure, except for specific events. There are a couple of reasons for this. For a general tourist, what facilities do we provide and what publicity do we generate? The answers are "not much" and "very little".

Along the Clarence Estuary between Yamba and Grafton there are no tourist riverbank pull-outs, not even one with no facilities.

And the river views are blocked by rubbishy scrub. There was a small open spot between Grafton and Maclean but last week they planted trees there. Go to the lookout in Maclean (actually, don't bother) and most of the view is obscured by trees. Driving the Nullarbor is more exciting. And this is just an example of the tourist-friendly facilities we don't provide.

For many months now I have been looking at the media for stuff promoting tourism. For some reason, whether it is local or Australia-wide, the Clarence is ignored. For example, a newspaper series promoting the NSW coast finally got to the Northern Rivers. Our sole mention was "the Northern Rivers start in Grafton and from there you go to Lennox Head". We have an identity problem.

So whose responsibility is it to bring the Clarence into the limelight?

A lot of it falls back on the council to facilitate tourism facilities (a new mooring dock at Brushgrove is great but how many tourists ever use it?). "But we have the Clarence Way Master Plan (2009)!" It is a list, not a plan, and even the number one item "Tourist Road 22" has not had any development or publicity in the four years since the "plan" was released.

It also requires significant private development, but a lot of that is stifled by red-green tape and petty council interference. It is not a chicken-and-an-egg situation, it is clearly one where the council needs to show leadership through action.

So now we get to the future of the Visitor Information Centres (DEX 19/11). Talk about cutting your feet off to save buying shoes. First, there are two grey areas that need clarification. One: Why doesn't the current arrangement meet the Local Government Act and what alternatives are available? Two: Provide a detailed breakdown of the rather high annual cost of $737,000.

As for the council taking over the VICs: since when has a government organisation ever done something as well and at a lower cost than private enterprise (unless they plan to downgrade it)? Under the model "2" plan preferred by the GM, they may close Grafton (instead of adding a new one at Yamba, our major tourist centre), and make the service a computerised, humanless, soulless "welcome" to the Clarence Valley. Think of calls to Telstra or Centrelink. And I'd bet I couldn't find anything about Route 22 on it.

What makes this idea even more ridiculous is that our friendly, helpful people are one of our biggest assets - if not our biggest. It boggles the mind.

This adds a third area of required clarification. Why aren't the current VIC management involved in the deliberations, if for no other reason than that it would appear (particularly from recommending model "2") that the council administration doesn't have a clue about tourism promotion?

Maybe it's got something to do with the following. After my dam advertisement was published, I talked to some highly respected valley people on the subject.

One made the comment: "John, drop the idea of a recreational lake as an advantage, because the CV Council and its administrators are actually very anti-tourist."

The sad thing is I wasn't surprised.

John Ibbotson

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