Beyond Business as Usual
Redlands could enhance its tourism potential and reap wide ranging benefits.
I don’t mean 5 star hotels, luxury resorts or Club Med, the type of tourism I’m thinking of makes the place attractive for visitors and residents alike. Basics like good restaurants, farmer’s markets, cycle paths, walking trails and mangrove boardwalks, public transport, a capacity sports ground, parkland, arts, cultural and heritage precincts, festival and event venues etc.
Tourism development requires a Council to set the right priorities and incentives, reduce red tape, provide the right infrastructure and facilities and listen to the community and the various stakeholders.
As an example of what tourism can do, take the case of Mackay. In 2013/14, the city recognized that the resources boom was coming to its end, so it took action to recoup lost prosperity through tourism promotion. Despite the region having no iconic tourist attractions, it increased its Queensland visitor numbers by 25%. And that’s just in the first year of its new tourism plan.
North Stradbroke Island
We’ll focus first on North Stradbroke Island because it’s losing its main industry. Mackay’s success can be emulated here. The Queensland Government has already developed a worthy Draft North Stradbroke Island Economic Transition Strategy supported by 16 actions, which aim to:
- drive sustainable tourism
- expand education and training opportunities
- foster business development and growth
They have allocated $20 million to drive this strategy and facilitate stakeholder co-investment to deliver a sustainable economy. The strategy is further supported by an additional $3.87 million in-kind Queensland Government contribution for identified actions and $5 million to help mine workers pursue new employment opportunities. This is an opportunity for mine workers to acquire new skills over the next year or two and make the transition to tourism. And these sums are in addition to any expenditure required on items such as policing, national parks or roads.
The State Government involvement in these tourism opportunities can only take it so far, the initial direction, motivation and ideas have to be locally generated. In seeking to promote such innovation-led growth, it is fundamental to understand the important roles that both the public and private sector have to play. In the first instance the public sector can work from the top down via the aforementioned strategies and they can also incentivize private sector-led innovation through subsidies, tax reductions, grant monies and in building the necessary infrastructure. The rest has to come locally from the ground up.
The State Government set up a Committee to oversee the Amendment Bill but it was made up solely of State MPs. But transitioning to tourism is not like planning a change to an industry with a single focus like manufacturing or mining, it has to involve the local community, business and tourism operators in the first instance. This is because tourism development is complex as the industry relies on a wide array of small niche markets, so planning for growth in tourism must be similarly wide ranging and very carefully managed with input from all stakeholders.
The instigators and facilitators of all the necessary local input must be the Redland City Council itself and it’s in this respect where there are grave concerns with the priorities that the last council team, led by Karen Williams, set in the past four years with its one-eyed focus on residential development, its lack of proper community consultation and its failure to listen to the science and experts in the field.
A functional and properly led council team that understood the issues, would appreciate that the big prizes shouldn’t all go to those who develop and build in the Redlands, help can be given to those who can create something from its natural assets. Heritage, cultural and nature based tourism brings local employment opportunities and provides income that helps preserve our natural assets and provides amenities for us all.
Already there have been scandalous delays in getting Straddie tourism proposals even discussed, let alone planned. Redlands City Council have been missing in action when it comes to exploiting tourism opportunities in the Redlands generally but particularly in regard to Straddie and Peel Island.
At the Public Forum at Cleveland on the ‘North Stradbroke Island Government Bill’ held on 10th February 2016, it was stated that it would take 22 years for the tourism industry on the island to make up for the shortfall in sand mining revenue after 2019, but that was at tourism’s present growth rate. But the present growth rate is at a snail’s pace because of the constraints it’s working under.
For example, in the holiday season, there are over 3,000 campers on the island and the island’s camp sites get overcrowded and they are desperately short of infrastructure. At the Main Beach camp site there are no facilities – not even composting toilets or drinking water. At Flinders beach there are just composting toilets but no other facilities. The island is also under extreme pressure from 4WDs and camping so there is need to open more of it up and establish more camp sites.
North Stradbroke Island is the second biggest sand island in the world and we should be taking more care of it. Straddie is popular as it has what both Fraser and Moreton Islands have got but is closer to the main population centres and easier to get to. Also, unique for a sand island, to access some of its campsites, a 4WD is not required.
Under Tourism Opportunities you will see visitation statistics that confirm what many tourist operators in the Redlands and surrounding areas generally, have been saying for decades: that Straddie is chronically under-marketed and lacks the necessary branding as a tourist destination. The peak tourism bodies of Brisbane, Queensland and the Commonwealth have also echoed these sentiments many times over the years. All these bodies will help in marketing the island both in the domestic and international markets.
Let’s summarize some key tourism indicators of Redlands and its islands:
There is untapped tourism potential on Peel Island which council should be fostering. Many thousands of years of Indigenous habitation was followed by the use of the island as a quarantine station in the 19th century, followed by a leper colony in the early 20th century. Many of the buildings from this latter era remain in fair condition and some have been restored by QNPWS. It thus has all the heritage, educational and field study potential of the very popular St Helena Island to its north (27,000+ visitors p.a) but with the added benefits of usable buildings, good camping site potential, plenty of shade and a safe sandy beach. To start with the island requires a jetty so that it can be properly accessed. The Leper colony closed in 1959 – what are we waiting for?
Indigenous cultural activities
Surveys of international visitors to Australia have shown that interest in Indigenous music, art and dance is consistently at the top of the ‘must see’ activities on visitors’ lists. In south-east Queensland there is a well acknowledged scarcity in the tourism sector of such Aboriginal culture. Yet Straddie has some of the earliest human habitation in South-East Queensland and is continuous.
Accordingly, many existing activities like the Quandamooka Festival, and Indigenous cultural activities and guided tours could be expanded, along with an Indigenous cultural centre where Indigenous culture and knowledge can be showcased and interpreted.
More could be made of the fact that the island was once home to Australia’s best known Indigenous poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (1920 – 1993). Formerly known as Kath Walker, she was also a political activist, artist, educator and a campaigner for Aboriginal Rights. She was the first Aboriginal Australian to publish a book of verse.
Arts Council Grants
There are good prospects for partnering between the tourism industry and government and there are grant monies available from both state and federal governments. How tourism businesses transform these government support mechanisms into viable enterprises is no easy task but two ongoing festivals on St Helena Island were seeded in the 1990s with Australian Arts Council grants, so it can be done.
Moreover, between them, Peel and North Stradbroke Island tick all the boxes in regard to what is favoured by these funding bodies: ‘Live’ Indigenous culture; early colonial history; vibrant art culture; tourism potential; National Park status and educational opportunities. Separately and in various combinations, these features all have good success rates for winning grant monies.
Another key indicator for seed money is competence and Straddie has the skill sets and a good track record of hosting successful festivals. We need a Council to set the right priorities and incentives that will further expand on existing events and exploit the untapped tourism resources that exist on both islands. Some of the infrastructure and organizational constraints are outside local government control, like a jetty for Peel Island and its proper gazetting as a functioning National Park. Hence we need a Council that will turn its attention away from residential development and lobby the State Government hard on these fundamentals.
Charterboat & Ferry Access
It’s not just Toondah Harbour that needs upgrading. On the island side, at both Dunwich and One Mile, the stepping off points onto the island require much needed renovations. The ferry terminals at Dunwich and One Mile are the scruffiest and most unwelcoming in south-east Queensland. Moreover, to optimise the enormous potential of the Brisbane visitor market, a fast passenger ferry from the CBD must be part of the plan. Similarly, bay cruises, Peel Island tours and whale watch cruises could be conducted from North Stradbroke Island itself.
Event & Activity Tourism
This is an important growth area and Straddie is a great place for surfing championships, camping, mountain bike trails, trekking and kayaking holidays. Due to its elevation, Straddie is one of the best land-based vantage points for whale watching in Australia. Also extended tours of its abundant wildlife on land and surrounding waters would be popular. These need facilitating by proper planning and infrastructure by Council.
One of the fastest growing sectors of the events and leisure activity industry is festivals. Adelaide is a good example of what can be done. It lost almost 30% of its workforce in the industrial sector in the past 30 years so, in response, the city has been incentivizing its cultural sector to make up for the economic shortfall. There’s a cluster of festivals in Adelaide during February and March – the Adelaide festival, the Adelaide fringe, Womadelaide, the Biennial and Adelaide writers’ week – which have a transformative effect on the city and its economy. In a report released in January 2016 by Festivals Adelaide, the festivals delivered $210m to the state’s economy in 2014/15 – an increase of 16% on the previous year.
More than a million tickets were sold to the various activities and then there’s the hotel rooms, restaurants and taxis, plus the couple of days many visitors tack on at the end to explore the area. Last year 52,000 interstate and international visitors came to Adelaide in March and in the whole year, 800,000 people came through the Garden of Unearthly Delights.
Rob Brookman, the artistic director of the Adelaide festival and founder of the WOMADelaide festival, says the festival season in Adelaide “acts as a great calling card for the city”. In Australia, what Rob calls the “awesome small city” vibe, has also worked for Hobart, whose arts and tourism sector have been revitalised in a short space of time through festivals and the promotion of cultural arts.
Vibrant cities like Austin or Portland in the United States have carved out their own niche in various festivals they hold that were initiated by supporting local creatives. Some great festival cities, like Avignon in France and Edinburgh in Scotland, use their festival space to create a carnival atmosphere outside the festival season. They allow for some elements of the festival season – including pedestrian zones, central cultural hubs and pop-up entertainment venues – to run all year. Such creative sizzle could also be initiated by Redland City Council through grants and by cutting the hoops participants have to jump through. Festivals drive tourism and create jobs: festivals in Adelaide generated 790 full-time or 7800 casual equivalent jobs in 2015.
The Redlands is well placed to emulate these examples and to expand on existing festivals. It has an active and varied arts community and the Cleveland town centre would lend itself to becoming a pedestrian only zone to provide venue space. This would also help revitalize the dying business centre. Then there are plenty of add on activities for visitors including the Sirromet winery, boutique brewery, farm stays, scenic drives and visits to the Bay islands and Straddie.
Straddie is very busy in school holidays but has low occupancy rates at other times. The development of new events-based products and scheduling of festivals can help even out seasonality across the year.
The Redlands Visitors Information Centre is situated at IndigiScapes at Capalaba. Their staff do a good job, but its out-of-the-way location means that it’s missed by most visitors to the Redlands area. A council with the proper balance of priorities would act as facilitator and properly promote Redlands’ tourism potential in areas where visitors are most likely to be. At minimal cost, small tourist information kiosks could be located adjacent to some of the transport hubs and staffed by volunteers.
I hope I have made it clear why I think that tourism is one of the industries that we in the Redlands should be encouraging. Please engage with these ideas and provide feedback.