Montefiore: The Tourism Megabuck Pass from State Government to City Council

The tourism season has kicked off and Jay Weatherill’s government has quietly passed the financial buck to Town Hall to boost the city’s tourism numbers and infrastructure. But it remains unclear whether a $466,000 action plan will ever address Adelaide’s eight unique
tourism handicaps.

What is Adelaide’s unique selling point? Tourists are increasingly becoming vital to support SA’s ailing economy. Adelaide families with teenage children seeking job pathways might have a big investment in the answers.

Sir Monty can recall a time when the state’s tourism minister, Leon Bignell, was nought but a carefree sports reporter with Adelaide’s morning newspaper. Several decades later he’s flying a metaphorical Sopwith Camel tourism biplane on behalf of a three-billion-dollar city industry attracting millions of annual overnight visitors. They don’t call him Biggles for nothing. Plenty of buzz, bonhomie and spin, but behind the façade it’s clear that SA faces big tourism challenges. Not just in money terms, when other states are throwing megabucks to attract theirs, but also in determining who in future should do what, when and how, with very limited resources.

Town Hall – come on down!

It’s become a long-established Labor tradition that if things are difficult, the buck is passed to local government, and this challenge may be the most demanding brief to have landed on the tarmac at Pirie Street’s Corridors of Power. That’s because according to May 2016 papers, not only is Town Hall to accept a bigger role for the ‘provision of visitor and tourist information’ (which it already has done for years, in a basic, volunteer kind of way) but also to ‘ensuring a supreme visitor experience once they are here’. A check of the dictionary gives up definitions of ‘supreme’ as ‘greatest possible, uttermost, extreme’ and implies that, should Town Hall deliver on the promise, millions of tourists might alter their global travel plans and instead head for Adelaide, keen for a slice of whatever ‘supreme’ is.

The buck was quietly passed last year. A rashly passed motion in October 2015 then committed Town Hall administrators to create an expensive action plan. Behind the scenes the state mandarins must have quietly heaved a sigh of relief. Town Hall had to find $422,000 that it hadn’t planned to spend, and that’s only to get the plan written this year. Over the next 12 months an additional $387,000 will have to be found and much will have to be spent every year hence, as Town Hall dances to Tourism SA’s new tune. (Other nearby councils must have heaved a sigh of relief as the Biggles biplane passed them by.)

The numbers are big – 20,400 workers in SA tourism ventures, across 12,000 tourism businesses. At stake is an industry featuring 15.9 million visitor nights, which Town Hall now accepts responsibility to grow to 18.5 million (international and domestic) within just four years. But already, Biggles’ state bureaucrats are saying it’s not enough. A May SA Tourism Commission letter to Town Hall smacked wrists, saying: “ is is approximately half of the growth ambition outlined in the Premier’s Economic Priority #5 and the SA Tourism Plan 2020, especially in light of the seven major hotels to be constructed in the CBD before 2020.” Clearly, the pressure’s on.

Behind the scenes, Town Hall’s people spent much of early 2016 running workshops, pulling in every tourism-related expert it could find – a veritable who’s who list of those in the trade. The results revealed that even industry experts can’t agree on some fundamentals – including ‘Adelaide’s unique selling point’.

Here’s a few: great food and wines; ‘an off-the-beaten-track’ city; a flat place for walking and cycling; easy street grid pattern for newcomers; unique park lands; trendy small bars; clean air and safe; extensive heritage character; ‘only one hour to anywhere tourism related’.

But there was more agreement on some of what some long-termers might describe as Adelaide’s ‘unique tourism handicaps’. They include:

1. The isolated city rail terminal at Mile End that strands train tourists far from the city.

2. The terminal at Outer Harbor that leaves sea-going visitors wondering where on earth they are.

3. A poorly resourced Adelaide Airport that’s not seen as an active tourism ‘prime city gateway’ and doesn’t offer a city light rail connection as do so many other cities;

4. A lack of parking rest spaces and information booths for caravanning tourists arriving at the city’s edges, sometimes prompting them to keep driving – to somewhere else.

5. A city and metro bus system that baffles visitors; mediocre and confusing way finding signage that often gets tourists lost.

6. A state wine centre in a location difficult for city walkers to find.

7. A tiny Town Hall tourist office hidden in one of the city’s more obscure laneways instead of prominently in the Mall where visitors might more easily find it. (It’s so small it can’t even offer Town Hall’s free city bike service.)

8. There’s also a problem about Town Hall’s city volunteers who do a great job on face-to-face tourist support – but who can’t legally be trained or resourced to manage financial transactions or tourism product bookings. Elementary, Watson.

Some Adelaide parents might see these deficits as opportunities for improvement – to keep their kids working in Adelaide. Can Biggles save the day? Now that Town Hall is on board the flight, having paid a very high price for an economy ticket (that now demands repeat payments) at least the pilot can point to the passenger if things don’t improve.

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