Not everyone caught up in hype
Not everyone shared the view that the Oprah-Byron Bay connection was a once-in-a-lifetime worldwide marketing opportunity.
For Byron Council’s deputy mayor Cr Patrick Morrisey, the hype highlighted the ‘desperate need’ for the council to be allowed to raise a tourism surcharge to provide and maintain basic community infrastructure.
Cr Morrisey said that while the media went ‘weak at the knees’ of the idea of Oprah coming to town and focus on the benefits to tourism operators, it was a great time to again ask Tourism Australia and Tourism NSW to lobby the NSW Government to allow small councils with large visitor numbers the ability to generate a tourism surcharge. He said a small rates base of about 14,425 rateable assessments must provide and maintain infrastructure used by residents and more than 1.2 million visitors a year.
“And this is before any possible further promotion by the Australian and NSW governments and Ms Winfrey to the world,” he said.
Cr Morrisey said the NSW Government had ‘steadfastly’ refused to allow councils to raise a tourism surcharge, and the NSW Opposition remained opposed, despite support in Parliament by Ballina MP Don Page.
He said it was unfair and unreasonable for Tourism Australia and Tourism NSW to promote Byron Bay as a tourist destination, yet ignore the fundamental basis on which tourism was based, a place where people could have a nice holiday with access to clean beaches, parks and open spaces, footpaths, streets and safe roads.
The best thing Oprah Winfrey could do for the town was to highlight the Byron Council needed a fairer share of the benefit of visitors, not just the cost of hosting what at present was an unsuitable financial model.
On the other side of the coin, Northern Rivers Tourism CEO Russell Mills said the publicity provided a ‘fantastic awareness boost’ for the whole region.
Mr Mills said Byron Bay was the drawcard for the region for overseas visitors, so the publicity would only reinforce the ‘brand’ internationally.
He said Northern Rivers Tourism had been strongly marketing the region over the last year under the banner of ‘Byron Bay and Beyond’, with Byron Bay used as the ‘calling card’.
The US market was the region’s third largest market with more than 17,000 visitors a year, and the region attracted 38 per cent of all international tourists to regional NSW, he said.
Mr Mills said competition for international travellers could only get more intense with the strong Australian dollar affecting some travellers. He said exposure through Oprah could only increase the visibility of the region to a broader range of potential tourists. “The whole promotion was great for Australia and any of the group visiting the Northern Rivers region can only translate to huge publicity for our tourism industry,” he said.