13 April 2018

Sapphire Coast Tourism to close following budget clash with Council

| Ian Campbell
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The 'unspoilt' Sapphire Coast. Photo: SCT

The ‘unspoilt’ Sapphire Coast. Photo: SCT.

The board of Sapphire Coast Tourism (SCT) has voted to wind up the organisation on 30 June, unable to work with the budget direction of Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC).

For almost a decade, SCT has been responsible for promoting and maximising tourism opportunities between Bermagui and the Victorian border. Their current core budget of $386,000 comes from Council with a mandate to plan and implement marketing and promotion, provide strategic direction, and vision, for the $782 million Bega Valley tourist industry.

Additional funds are added through successful State and Commonwealth Government grants and projects.

Managed by Executive Officer, Anthony Osborne, under a volunteer board of directors led by Chair, Bruce Leaver, SCT claim a number of key wins including a 5% increase in visitor nights since 2013 and a 12% increase in tourist spending for the same period.

Tenders are open until May 2 for Council’s next tourism marketing contract, but at their April 9 meeting, the SCT board said they were unable to tender for a renewed contract.

In a letter written to Mayor, Kristy McBain, but leaked to About Regional, Mr Leaver writes, “It was felt that it would be unconscionable to submit a proposal [tender].”

Surprisingly, the tender documents prepared by Council for the open market point to a budget of $327,000, including $99,000 to be allocated to Visitor Information Centres.

Beautiful Bermagui. Photo: SCT

Beautiful Bermagui. Photo: SCT.

The thrust of Mr Leaver’s letter to the Mayor is that $327,000 is not enough to do the job.

Prior to the tender process, SCT provided advice to Council suggesting ‘bare bones’ funding of $390,000, CPI adjusted each year for the next 10. Additionally, SCT presented an option where Council’s allocation topped $640,000 a year.

The higher figure would allow SCT to, “properly engage with the icon inbound tourism strategies – Sydney to Melbourne Touring, Canberra International Airport, development of regional partnerships in Southern Destination Network, and expand engagement with Eurobodalla and East Gippsland,” Mr Leaver writes.

“$640,000 is still about one-third of the amount allocated by Eurobodalla [Shire Council],” Mr Leaver writes in a supporting document.

“For every $1 BVSC invest in SCT, the regional economy benefits by about $190.”

Council’s General Manager, Leanne Barnes says, “SCT is an amazing organisation that has achieved excellent outcomes for the local tourism industry and for the Shire more broadly.”

“We respect the decision made by the SCT board and thank the organisation for their collective commitment and professionalism,” Ms Barnes says.

“Over the past several years, SCT have applied for, and been successful in gaining additional Council contributions from the general fund. However, the elected Council has clearly indicated that 2017/18 represents the last year of this extended funding.

“The very tight current fiscal climate is imposing a severe discipline on the current 2018-19 budget preparation, with additional funds for tourism development just one of the many worthwhile calls on Council’s limited resources,” she says.

“What we would like to support and what we are actually able to do will drive some very hard budgetary decisions.

“I am confident that whoever is chosen to deliver these services moving forward will be able to build on the strategic positioning established by Sapphire Coast Tourism,” Ms Barnes says.

Ben Boyd's Tower, south of Eden, the start of the Light to Light Walk. Photo: SCT.

Ben Boyd’s Tower, south of Eden, the start of the Light to Light Walk. Photo: SCT.

In an earlier submission to Council, Mr Leaver points to the challenges ahead for any new promotions organisation:

“An over-reliance on the domestic market. Domestic tourism in NSW is projected to grow by only 0.9%, [compared to] international tourism by 9%”;

“A heavy reliance on peak-summer beach recreation visitation;

“Very poor visitor infrastructure in national parks, particularly vehicle access,” he writes.

While SCT has indicated they will cease trading on 30 June, the actual date still needs to be determined based on an assessment of the funds needed to meet liabilities, particularly staff entitlements.

Mr Leaver suggests that Council needs to turn its mind to how it might manage a number of current programs managed by SCT including the Tathra Bushfire Recovery Marketing Program, Cruise Eden, Commonwealth Regional Jobs and Investment Packages, and the Port of Eden Activation Project.

“At the close of SCT trading, the website will be taken down and social media closed,” Mr Leaver writes to the Mayor.

“SCT would be pleased to assist with transition as far as practicable, including handover to any service provider.”

Leanne Barnes says tenders received will be assessed and presented to councillors at their May 23rd meeting.

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