By a vote of 8:1, Kiama councillors have decided to establish an in-house Tourism & Events business unit and cut Council’s long standing funding to industry body Kiama Tourism from 1 July.
The decision ends a hybrid model which as been operating for two years, where Council took responsibility for promoting tourism and Kiama Tourism was responsible for operations such as the visitors centre, the website and member services.
Mayor Honey says having a single body managing both the marketing and operational aspects of tourism, such as the Visitors Centre, had a number of advantages.
“There will be greater efficiencies, increased accountability to ratepayers and the tourism sector and improved coordination between the strategic, marketing and operational staff.
“Another key benefit is that tourism operators, industry groups and other government agencies (such as Destination NSW), will now have a single point of contact for tourism in our area.”
“The overwhelming view amongst councillors was to bring tourism back into Council to get it to work as quickly as possible,” says Councillor Matt Brown, a member of the Kiama Tourism Board.
“I would rather it (the responsibility) stay with Kiama Tourism, but that wasn’t to be the case. So I drafted a motion that would bring it into Council but would respect and assist Kiama Tourism during the transition.
“If everyone puts tourism as their number one goal, then this will work.”
Along with the new Tourism & Events business unit (with core staff of a manager and a coordinator), Council will be establishing an advisory committee made
up of four industry representatives, two councillors and the General Manager ‘to guide Council in maximising tourism opportunities’.
Kiama Tourism Chair Rob Sciacchitano says the decision ends two years of limbo.
“Kiama Tourism died two years ago and Council buried it last night,” he said the day after the March Council meeting.
“Two years ago they pulled our funding and we haven’t been able to do anything but open and close the visitors centre since.
“I was on the board of Shellharbour Tourism for 14 years and I know how a proper industry board should work and how effective they can be.
“The Board I have been on here has been one pleading for more funding.
“Hopefully we will be able to get some traction and get things done by participating on the new board.”
He gives Council taking Kiama out of the Unspoilt campaign as an example of how lack of industry involvement in marketing has shown during this period.
“This move has been really damaging for the area.”
Council’s General Manager Michael Forsyth says a number of other councils have successfully run their tourism promotion along the lines of Kiama’s new model.
He explains that the new Tourism & Events Manager will report to him, with the board playing an advisory role. Kiama Tourism will be welcome to nominate representatives to the Board.
Mr Sciacchitano says that in many ways Council’s decision raises more questions than it answers, with much to be clarified.
“I just hope Council does the right thing for the people working for Kiama Tourism at the moment,” he says.
Mayor Honey says staff will be encouraged to apply for roles within the new unit.
The effectiveness of the new arrangements will be assessed after two years.
Councillor Brown says it is up to Kiama Tourism and its members to decide what they want to do from now on.
Disclosure: The author is a former member and director of Kiama Tourism