President of the Greater Port Macquarie Toursim Association, David Capper, gives us an insight into the organisation’s operations and plans for the future.
Hi David. As well as being the General Manager of Rydges Port Macquarie, you are also the President of the Greater Port Macquarie Tourism Association. Tell us a bit about the Association.
The Tourism Association is a non-profit organisation that represents the interests of tourism businesses within the Greater Port Macquarie region. We have an 11-person volunteer board who work tirelessly for the improvement of tourism. We represent our members and aim to achieve sustainable growth within the industry. To do so, we work closely with Council; and in particular the Tourism Marketing team, and also at the General Manager and Administrator level as well. We also have good representation on the newly formed Council panels, which are all about planning for the future; we also liaise at both state and federal levels of government. I guess in some ways we are very much a lobby group.
So what sort of shape is the tourism industry in at the moment?
I’d be lying if I said everything has been great in the tourism sector over the past year or two; however, there still are a number of positives. From a macro point of view, domestic tourism has been suffering with things such as economic uncertainty, natural disasters and the high value of the Australian Dollar (which makes overseas holidays quite attractive) all making an impact. As a result, many traditional tourism areas have been suffering. From a local point of view, I wouldn’t say we have been immune to all that, but I believe we have fared much better than a lot of other areas.
Why do you believe Greater Port Macquarie has fared better then?
I think this comes down to a number of factors, such as a strategy of targeting not only traditional tourism areas but also business and event tourism such as Ironman and Wintersun. Targeting business and events tourism has been a key strategy implemented some years ago now, and I believe it is really paying great dividends. Without this foresight, I am not sure we would be in the position we are currently in. Events not only have an immediate and tangible effect on the economy, but also have a flow on effect, with many of those attending returning at a later date with their families.
Of course, the presentation of the area to a wide audience via coverage of the event also helps promote the area.
An area that shouldn’t be underestimated is the effect of our reputation as a friendly town. We consistently hear positive feedback on how friendly locals are, not only within the hospitality industry, but amongst the wider community as well. Council initiatives such as the Customer Care program really help from that point of view. Of course, the fact we boast some of the best beaches, coastline and hinterland helps a lot too – this is greatly assisted with protection of these key assets via controlled development.
Another positive contributing factor is the fact we have a lot of local operators who are proactive and are being innovative. Some examples of this are independently organised events such as the Festival of the Sun and the formation of the 52+ Things 2 Do campaign, which has seen over 52 different operators working together to market themselves.
What are some of the major issues that the Association are involved with?
I think at the moment from a tourism point of view, the core issues are the airport and the extension of the runway to allow for direct interstate flights. This would open up the area to a whole new market both for business tourism and also the traditional holiday market. I think there is a great argument for securing funding for the project, with the airport seeing a 10% growth over the past year in passenger numbers and the fact that the Sydney to Port Macquarie route is, I believe, the third fastest growing domestic route in the country.
The waterfront development is another issue which we are keeping a close eye on. Obviously the waterfront is a key tourist asset, and we have many members whose livelihood depends on it. Any changes will have to balance the need to modernise and beautify the area, but still allow for the smooth running of commercial operations. What effect the recent change of government has on the redevelopment in terms of scope and timing remains to be seen, but we will make sure our voice is heard for whatever is planned.
The third major issue remains our roads. Whilst the trip north from Sydney to Port Macquarie is all but finished, there remains the issue of the roads leading in from the north. Obviously the easier the trip is to our area, then the more people we could expect to make it. I know the Pacific Highway has been a major policy issue with the new State Government and with additional funding announced in the state budget, we look forward to any fast tracking of work that may result.
Looking ahead David, what do you see the future holding?
I think tourism will, in the short term, remain a challenging industry to be in, with the Australian Dollar expected to remain high for some time. I do, however, believe that Greater Port Macquarie as an area is well placed to continue to succeed. As mentioned, we have a lot to offer in terms of variety of natural beauty and a local tourism industry that is very proactive. In addition, our Council marketing team are quite innovative, as evidenced by their fast uptake on the use of social media as an inexpensive way to generate awareness of the region. Likewise, they have recently partnered with Wotif.com for their online booking service – one of the first regions to do so. The value in that has already been shown, with the first campaign achieving some fairly staggering increases year on year.
I believe that tourism does well when the overall community is doing well. I was reading the other day that the new hospital upgrade will ultimately offer somewhere in the vicinity of 250 new jobs – I would assume the vast majority of these would be new people to town. With 250 new families moving to town, it will be a boost for local commerce and will stimulate housing, schools etc.
Add to that the proposed Sancrox development and the interest being shown in the area by Charles Sturt University, as well as the continued growth of the Newcastle University campus, and it augurs well for the future.
From a pure tourism point of view, I would personally love to see the area with the return of a highly regarded and iconic tourism operation – whether that be by the further development, growth and refurbishment of an existing attraction such as Timbertown or Billabong or indeed, some new enterprise. I believe that would round out Greater Port Macquarie as a destination nicely.