Events key to luring visitors to fire area

Events key to luring visitors to fire area

14 July 2009

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Australia — An “ICONIC event” such as a motorcycle rally week on the Black Spur and a strong events calendar to match successful Victorian regional centres such as Beechworth are needed to bring tourists back to Marysville, a report on the town’s economic recovery recommends.

A high-end conference centre and arts events staged in picturesque surroundings are seen as key ideas to draw big spenders to Marysville and the local district. The report, by Boston Consulting Group, says a stimulus package such as low-interest loans, grants or government hand-outs are needed alongside private sector investment to start rebuilding.

Tourism could increase by 20 to 50 per cent from pre-bushfire levels depending on private investment and public support, the strategy says.

The report, commissioned by the Victorian bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, calls for the development of a “Marysville brand” and an aggressive marketing strategy to rival key Victorian tourism hubs such as the Yarra Valley.

The report compares the six annual events in Marysville and Lake Mountain with 66 in Beechworth and presents ideas such as a chamber music festival, regional food and wine show and a theatre series.

The construction of at least one all-season conference centre with a day spa, supported by quality food and wine, must be a short-term priority, the group recommends. Three centres whose visitors contributed 20 per cent of tourist revenue each year were lost in the fires.

“Our vision for the future of Marysville and the Triangle (Taggerty, Buxton and Narbethong) is a desirable nature-based tourist destination,” the report says. “Revitalised tourism will be key to regional economic recovery.”

About 42 per cent of Marysville residents were employed in tourist accommodation. There would be opportunities to revitalise niche industries such as trout farming at Marysville and Buxton, which generated $1-to-$2 million each year, or 15 per cent of Australia’s trout production, the report says.

As well, the region provided almost half of the state’s highest-value mountain ash species — a type of eucalyptus used as a staple hardwood. But the report said while there would be short-term jobs in forestry, it would take 40 to 60 years for mountain ash to return.

Lake Mountain, the snow resort closest to Melbourne, needs to rival the success of Mount Beauty and Mount Buller in the summer, with hang gliding championships, fishing and horse riding. Before the fires, about 40 per cent of Marysville’s annual revenue, or $13 million, was generated from about 150,000 Lake Mountain visitors.

The BCG independent recommendation — planned to be used as part of the wider recovery plan for the region — was partly informed by interviews with more than 50 representatives of the local community, business, government and reconstruction authority.

“People enjoyed escaping to a town with an alpine village feel,” said one submission. But another called the region “doily-ville, with old-fashioned tourist assets, not high-tier … it didn’t work too well in the market”. Using as an example the Canadian town of Kelowna, wiped out in a 2003 fire, the report says Marysville’s economy could be rebuilt within three years.

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