Tourism: warning bells are ringing says mayor
By GARY CHIGWIDDEN
As Byron Bay's reputation as a "party town" grows, impacting more and more on the daily lives of residents, warning bells are ringing that the town's popularity as a tourist destination is "possibly on the slide".
That's the message from Byron Mayor, Cr Jan Barham, who, while calling on the town's tourism industry to support the council in halting the slide, also warned the town's popularity as a tourist destination faced "going off the boil".
That could lead to the tourism industry "suffering incredibly", said Cr Barham.
Her comments come in response to "many" complaints she has personally received from residents about the activities of holidaymakers over Christmas and New Year, particularly from residents living near holiday rental houses.
"I have experienced it myself," she said. "It's probably the biggest negative associated with tourism.
"It has changed our way of life. I believe it's going to ultimately impact in a negative way on the tourism industry."Cr Barham said there were some short-sighted tourism operators who didn't realise it was the town's cultural identity which was the real attraction.
She said the loss of that identity could see the town lose its appeal as a tourist destination.
With tourism impacting on residential areas combined with the impact of noise and rubbish, Byron Bay was losing "that warm, fuzzy feeling".
Said Cr Barham: "It appears we are attracting people who don't respect the place.
"For whatever reason, you have people damaging our landscape, impacting on private businesses, breaking shop windows.
"We had that terrible incident a while ago, which distressed me terribly, when we lost the shed (Clarkes Beach) for the disabled wheelchair.
"Acts like that show that people aren't respectful and don't appreciate that this is not a theme park.
"It is in fact home for a resident population."
Cr Barham believes the situation can be turned around at Byron Bay, but the support of the tourism industry is needed.
However, she said, some operators would have to overcome a "blind spot" they had about the impacts of tourism on the town.
"I think that's predominantly because a lot of tourist operators are not long-term residents and they don't realise the degree of degradation of our way of life," she said.
"I would say some of them are too focused on the dollar and not really caring for the resource they are reliant on, which is the place itself and the people."
Cr Barham said it was important to keep tourism at Byron Bay on a sustainable level and for the industry to stop and look where it was heading.
She said there was a risk of "killing the golden goose".
"I think we are," she said. "If we lose that identity, which is the attraction, the industry is going to suffer incredibly.
"We will go off the boil where we are not a favourite tourist spot.
"All the tourist reports we have got have highlighted that fact."
Cr Barham said a big effort had to be made to "resurrect" the traditional family tourist market.
She said Byron Bay was losing its family market because of high prices and the "general feel of the place".
The "inappropriate" behaviour of some visitors along with its repu- tation as a party town deterred families from coming to Byron Bay , she said.
Alcohol seemed to be a major problem, bringing out aggression in people.
Said Cr Barham: "That's one of the big issues.
"There have been calls for the earlier closing of hotels.
"I think we have to look at all issues to see if we can come to some point to see how we can manage it.
"The warning bells are there that it's (tourism) possibly on the slide."
Cr Barham said the com- munity needed an assurance from the tourism industry that they were "going to do the right thing."
Cr Barham said a public meeting was being planned where the whole community would have the opportunity to have their say on tourism.