Strategy holds key to tourism golden era

A cursory look through the extraordinary collection of postcards inthe Gold Museum atSovereign Hill quickly reveals the long-standing status of Ballarat as a city famed for being a tourism destination since the earliest days of the gold rushes.

Historic scenes, streetscapes and inspirational landscapes proudly show off this greatest of Victorian era cities.

We are indeed so fortunate that the wealth generated from gold underpinned the amazing development of Ballarat as we know it today.

Very few places around the world can claim the architectural significance that our city boasts.

Over the past century and more, people with great foresight and commitment – not to mention extraordinary philanthropy – have created a tourism drawcard in the built environment and associated tourist attractions.

The art ballery, fine statuary, Sovereign Hill, Her Majesty’s Theatre, the lake and botanic gardens are just a few of these drawcards that have underpinned a vibrant and sustainable tourism economy for our city and its region.

Simply having such high quality assets is not enough in itself to drive what is now termed “the visitor economy”.

This must also embrace the integrated tourism product we offer, including accommodation, the arts and theatre, food and wine, events, leisure and sporting pursuits, attractions and festivals.

It is the very reason why Visit Ballarat – our regional tourism marketing and promotional body – needs to be placed on the soundest of financial footings by BallaratCity Council and delegated with full responsibility to deliver a consolidated and unified service for the sector.

The new funding contract for Visit Ballarat is currently up for renewal.

An independent financial study undertaken by Ernst & Young has measured the economic impact of Sovereign Hill on Victoria’s economy as being $228.5 millionand 1422 jobs for the year endingJune 30,2013. That can only have increased over the past threeyears.

A much bigger economic footprint will apply to the wider visitor economy in our Ballarat region, as there are of course many more tourism-related businessesthan just Sovereign Hill.

The council has a golden opportunity to strategically invest in Visit Ballarat with a new long-term funding agreement and transfer of all events activity into this organisation.

There has been good success in this events space over recent years.

But the time has come to have it all within the one structure.

With clear key performance indicators sitting within this funding arrangement, the council will reap the reward of having a thriving tourism sectorserviced by a lean and focused industry body.

The present split structure of some activities and events being delivered by Visit Ballarat and others by the council itself is cumbersome, less cost-effective and inevitably constricted by red tape.

All the national economic indicators for tourism point to a golden era ahead, particularly for high-yielding international markets.

We need to move now to fund and structure up Visit Ballarat to place our region in the box seat to benefit from this growth sector of the economy.

Jeremy Johnson is chief executive of the Sovereign Hill Museums Association.

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