HOW TO DEVELOP AND GROW TOURISM INTO REGIONAL AND RURAL COMMUNITIES

Team Tilma are fortunate to travel to many regional and rural communities throughout Australia, and are ALWAYS amazed at how much these communities and destinations have to offer.

Often the locals cannot see it because they are too familiar with their backyard, but as soon as we start exploring and hanging with the locals we discover amazing assets that can quite easily become visitor drawcards with smart investment and development.

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There are many practical actions regional and rural communities can take to attract more visitors and tempt visitors to stay longer and spend more money in local businesses.

So if you are a community or council that is interested in developing tourism as part of your economy and social fabric we suggest you read on…

TOURISM OPPORTUNITIES FOR REGIONAL AND RURAL TOWNS

We know you probably don’t need convincing, but here are some key points that highlight the opportunity that tourism presents for regional and rural towns.

  • We can no longer ignore tourism as a vital sector of our economies! Tourism is one of five super-growth industry sectors for Australia according to Deloitte Australia

  • Regional destinations often have great history, stories, people, wildlife, landscapes and hidden gems, and local leadership and organisations. The things that many mainstream destinations don’t have is the simple things (and the people) that make regional and rural towns so appealing

  • Even if you feel you don’t have an iconic attraction in your town, remember many travelling in regional areas are on a journey through a region that your town is a part of – you can promote your broader region and the journeys that lead travellers to and through your town (Remember to use the back of the doors in your public toilets to share reasons to stay longer in your town with passersby!)

  • The mainstay of rural tourism is grey nomads, who not only make an economic but also a social contribution to regional communities (Of all age groups, it’s Baby Boomers who have time and money for travel)

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TOURISM CHALLENGES FOR REGIONAL AND RURAL DESTINATIONS

If there isn’t a challenge involved we wouldn’t do it, right?! We are Aussies after all.

Being able to understand what challenges exist in our towns can help identify the opportunities and future growth potential. Here are some of the typical challenges that Tilma Group come across when working with regional and rural communities.

  • Many kinds of businesses don’t see themselves as involved in tourism and many regional business owners value their work-life balance so they are not proactive in growing their businesses

  • There are often few activities for visitors to experience in rural towns, such as a static museum, Main Street shops, and a cafe

  • Infrastructure and facilities might be lacking

  • It’s difficult to attract investment

  • It’s difficult to compete on cost, especially flights

  • Tourism development projects need to happen in parallel – e.g. infrastructure, food, activities and accommodation

  • Diversification from grey nomads – how will the next generations travel?

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DEVELOPING TOURISM IN YOUR TOWN OR REGION

The Foundation

There are four pillars to the tourism industry:

  • Attractions, experiences and events

  • Visitor servicing (providing information to visitors at every stage of their trip from dreaming about it to planning it to experiencing it and sharing about it with friends)

  • Brand story and marketing – who you are (and who you are right for)

  • Industry and community skills

If you want to develop your tourism industry and grow the benefits your region receives from tourists, you need to assess and address all of these.

For example, you can’t jump into a marketing campaign to a desired market if you don’t have the right product to appeal to them, or plan a festival to attract a lot of visitors if the community doesn’t have skills to run a quality event.

Be Consumer-Led

  • Understand your visitors, and we aren’t just talking about those who are coming now. It’s more important to know who isn’t coming, but should be!

  • Be relevant to your current and future visitor needs and priorities – be adaptable or be prepared to decline!

  • A lack of data on consumer behaviour inhibits initiatives – your state or regional tourism organisation can help you access relevant data – and consider gathering your own, such as anonymous free local accommodation data with STR Global

Tourism Infrastructure

  • Maintain crucial infrastructure (have the petrol station open, mobile phone coverage or wifi access and food available)

  • Maintain an attractive town appearance and a warm welcome!

  • Invest in basic tourism infrastructure – accommodation that can sleep a coach-load; something more than static museums for families with kids

  • Provide current road condition info – tourists don’t mind dirt roads but they need to know current road conditions

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Tourism Attractions and Activities

  • Identify your destination’s ideal visitor/s and audit all the experiences those tourists could have in your town along with food, accommodation and services like internet access and rest stops. Are there any gaps? Such an audit will show you what needs to be developed

  • Develop loops and itineraries that bundle together experiences for your ideal visitor, such as a two days’ worth of things to do for a family with kids aged 6-11

  • Become RV friendly if you can

  • Leverage key attractions such as by creating other experiences for their visitors – for example, developing a bush walking track to give visitors to a destination cafe a reason to stay longer

  • Ensure sites and facilities are accessible, and promote this fact

  • Find ways for indigenous and non-indigenous interests to collaborate

Attracting Investment

  • Do feasibility studies for major investments – seek grant funding for the feasibility study if necessary

  • Plan to attract new investment by planning how your community can co-fund it

  • Use alternative business models such as community-owned enterprises like a motel or a café (like a community-owned bank)

  • A major attraction like a Hall of Fame is not necessarily the best development for your community – they are expensive to build and expensive to maintain, and static museums are out of fashion. Consider alternative attractions such as Coolamon’s seasonal calendar of events

Community Collaboration and Leadership

  • Increase local awareness of the value of tourism

  • Local champions are needed

  • Coordinate between VICs across your region or a drive route – work together to give reasons to visitors to slow down

  • Ensure there is local awareness of activities – frontline businesses like pubs and petrol stations need to be informed of what is on in town

  • Forget about your region’s political boundaries – visitors really don’t care about them

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Local Businesses

  • Recognise the value of tourism – to your own business and also to your town. Tourism has a greater multiplier effect than most other industries, meaning a dollar spent by a visitor at a caravan park is then spent at the local newsagency by the caravan park owner, and then the newsagent spends it at the local P&C fundraiser and so on

  • Co-opetition – rather than competing with other nearby businesses, collaborate to bring tourists into the region

  • Care for appearance, including welcoming streetscapes (Council has a role in this too)

  • Maintain opening hours – being closed leads to negative comments on social media

  • Join in tourism networking meetings. Take ownership of tourism instead of leaving it to local government

  • Address businesses that bring the town down – like the pub with poor customer service

  • Leverage events to draw more money out of their attendees and into your business – here is a great resource on how to do that

  • Shift attitudes in your town – Sundays with nothing open, kitchens closed at lunch time, and all businesses closed during an event so the locals can attend are powerful reasons for tourists to decide not to stay and spend money in your town

Role of Local Government

  • Deal with issues like being ‘RV friendly’

  • Don’t ignore social and economic sustainability

  • Celebrate small successes

  • Tourism facilities and priorities need to be included in Council planning

  • Operators need guidance, mentoring and support

Destination Marketing (Communication and Engagement)

  • Identify current and target markets, and what your visitors want and need

  • Make sure your target markets fit your brand story (who you are)

  • Use social media in a savvy way (use the analytics to assess what works)

  • Provide maps, itineraries and signage

  • Audit existing marketing – is it reaching target markets?

  • Rationalise your marketing – are your getting the best bang for your buck? (Do you even measure results?!)

  • Make the most of your VIC (visitor inspiration centre)

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PRACTICAL ACTIONS YOUR COMMUNITY CAN TAKE TODAY

The University of Southern Queensland’s Institute for Resilient Regions and the South West Regional Economic Development Board (a group of southwest Queensland councils) recently researched how regional communities can gain greater economic benefit from tourism.

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If you want to read more about how your town can become a tourism destination check out the  wonderful guide of practical actions rural and regional communities can take to orient their communities towards tourism, published by The Institute and SWRED. The guide covers the basics of

  • tourism product audits

  • marketing and social media use

  • customer service

  • product development

  • signage

  • collaboration

  • diversification

  • events

  • measuring and evaluating tourism

Download the guide, grab a cuppa, and get ready to start taking notes on things your community could do – right away and as energy and funding allows.

WHAT’S NEEDED?

To wrap all of that up, here are the things that you need to successfully become a tourism destination:

  • Local drivers/champions

  • A positive business culture

  • Evidence of tourism’s economic value – and sharing this around your community

  • Collaboration

  • Continuity of effort

  • Grant programs that allow coordinated development of tourism rather than just one-off support for particular activities

  • Tangible targets for tourism development – so you know how you’re tracking and when you’ve succeeded!

  • Development happening in parallel

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YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you see as solutions to the challenges facing regional communities in attracting tourists? Leave a comment!

Our experience in working with rural councils is that councils need mentoring on destination development to identify big picture solutions that will help them not to waste money and energy on piecemeal activities.

EXPERT HELP

If you want expert support to grow tourism in your rural community, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

We develop tourism activation plans that are straightforward to implement – no more strategies sitting dusty on a shelf!

We also support professionals across the tourism industry with strategic mentoring.

Find out what it was like to work with us from our client’s perspective, and what outcomes have already been achieved in this case study from last year when we developed a Tourism Activation Plan for Bulloo Shire Council in the Queensland Outback, and supported its implementation with twelve months of mentoring for Council’s tourism staff.

Then give us a call if you are looking for support at 0439 192 193 or direct message @lindatillman or @kushlagale

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