Susie Boswell catches up for lunch and a chat with tourism dynamo Belinda Novicky from the Mid-North Coast Regional Tourism Association.
We’re enjoying lunch in the sunshine at Town Beach and I’m increasingly impressed by my guest’s achievements. As she effortlessly reels off her activities this week alone, I have trouble keeping up with her staggering agenda. But, when our talk turns to personal ambitions, suddenly she has me spluttering in my soup.
“Of course,” she says casually, with a nonchalant flick of her hair, “my eggs are frozen.” She is not referring to food: I’m astonished she’s gone to the extent of putting a family “on ice” for the sake of career when she’s barely reached mid-30s.
But then Belinda Novicky laughs mischievously, grins and assures me: “No-oo, they’re not frozen! I’m just kidding, Susie!” She explains: when you’ve been married 10 years, families tend to press the question of when kids will be coming along. The “frozen eggs” thing is her light-hearted way of deflecting inquisitive relatives. It turns out to be typical of a cheerful personality that goes with a woman integral to generating business activity supporting tens of thousands of jobs locally and enhancing the prosperity of countless other dependent enterprises. She and husband Mark, who renovates houses, are content for now but, she says, “there’s children coming” eventually.
Meanwhile, Novicky is going places, literally. As Executive Officer of the Mid-North Coast Regional Tourism Association, she covers an area running along 400km of coastline from Port Stephens, the Great Lakes and Taree through Port Macquarie, Kempsey and on to Nambucca Heads, Bellingen and Coffs Harbour.
Her role makes her one of our leading female executives but you’d be hard-pressed to push her package to six figures. She deals daily with operators whose earnings easily eclipse hers, yet she’s at the head of an industry effort attracting some 14 million visitor nights a year and an income of many more millions of dollars to local economies.
She’s held the post for a year and done it so well they’ve offered her a three-year contract. Nominees of the region’s eight local government instrumentalities serve on her board, with four industry representatives. It’s an economic partnership between the councils and the State Government’s Tourism NSW. The area seems an unwieldy octopus, with little commonality between the eight districts. But Novicky – whose middle name may be Pollyanna – reckons “Not at all!” Drawcards such as beaches, the bush and whale watching are shared by all, she points out – but I’m treated to a homily, too, on the virtues of a diversity of attractions for visitors to enjoy.
A Bachelor of Business with majors in marketing and HR, Novicky soon will earn her Masters in Tourism. “I grew up in [hospitality],” she explains. “My parents were moteliers and publicans so I identified early with the importance of attracting visitors to sustain business. It was a natural progression to continue working in the industry.”
She’s garnered knowledge across an ambit of the leisure game, including at Palm Meadows, a Greg Norman golf course targeting international sports tourists. “I also worked for a time with my parents in their Toowoomba motel to get an owner-operator perspective,” she says, in yet another positive spin. There was a role with Irish pubs and historic bakery-cafes, another facet added to a versatile c.v. She took on tourism management for Warwick Shire, a novel challenge running events such as rodeos, for an understanding of the industry at local government level.
Her varied background has seen her turn her hand here to myriad projects, among them a Food and Wine strategy showcasing farming and restaurants, and a Signature Dish competition for local chefs to devise a standout menu item “that reflects the region’s character and highlights the variety of fresh produce”. Then there’s her Nature and Fishing initiative, a mid-north coast Touring Club, a “pink” campaign, and more. She has a superb verbal dexterity and the ideas just tumble out. Novicky employs tools such as websites, events, press and TV features, brochures for Visitor Information Centres, direct marketing newsletters and advertising. This morning she launched the Signature Dish promotion: prawns were shipped from Crowdy Head, mushrooms despatched from the Lakes and strawberries from Ricardoes’ greenhouses to form a delectable array of produce for TV news cameras, and put a fire under local chefs to create a winning dish. Next month’s finals will be an extravaganza, judged before an interactive audience at Port Macquarie TAFE. The spin-off will be lots of publicity for the winning dish and the region.
Novicky’s now dashed to this working lunch and later visits Crescent Head before driving some five hours north to pick up a Britz Maui campervan, arriving at Tweed Heads this evening for the launch of another new program she’s working on. She’s linking with the Central Coast, Hunter, Northern Rivers and Tourism Queensland to create a Pacific Coast Touring Route guide.
It’s not all pizzazz. There are board meetings, reports, liaison with stakeholders, briefings to economic development authorities, applications for government grants. Novicky recently led a submission that won $600,000 in state funding. Although the money’s to rebuild commerce in flood-devastated locations, Little Miss Sunshine points out its use in drawing visitors to the region has benefits for Port and other adjacent areas, too. While she doesn’t say so, there’s a degree of politics in her job, a juggling act of dealing with an undercurrent of sometimes conflicting interests: not only individual areas in the region vying with each other, but businesses – say, entertainment venues – competing against their peers. The communities work together overall but there are inevitable commercial tensions. Organisational change to cope with, too: a move to have private industry more involved in funding and the direction of tourism promotion.
Those matters lie unaddressed today: it’s time for Novicky to hit the highway to pick up the van for this evening’s event. “Mauis now have flat screen TVs and spas, for heaven’s sake!” she enthuses. People are keen to take to the road and we’ve plenty to offer, she says. She’s after the “flash packers” (upmarket backpackers), the FITS (free independent travellers) and then, she says, there’s the Viagras.
Pardon? That seems a rather vulgar nickname for our travel-loving grey nomads.
“No! Not Viagras!” she protests. “It’s VIAGRAs – Veterans In Automobiles Going Round Australia!” Novicky throws back, as she heads into the distance, laughing still.
> Out to Lunch is hosted by Lou Perri at The Stunned Mullet on Town Beach.