Visitors centre thrown lifeline

The financially threatened Brunswick Heads Visitors Centre has been thrown a lifeline by Byron Council.


On the motion of Cr Basil Cameron, the council last week voted to contribute $5000 to the centre which will allow its part-time manager to remain employed for the rest of the year.


Cr Cameron said the centre was an important part of the Brunswick Heads business community and played a major role in helping to integrate tourists into the local community.


He said the centre had done a magnificent job and had been successful in ‘making things happen’ in a way sympathetic with the shire’s values.


Cr Tom Tabart said there would be some people not too happy with what was happening in Brunswick Heads with the ‘urge’ for tourism to take over the town.


Cr Tabart said the onus of funding the centre should be shifted back to those benefiting from it.


While the mayor Cr Jan Barham supported the motion, she said she did so with some reluctance.


Cr Barham said there was a need for the tourism industry to get a ‘grip’ on its responsibilities.


She said it might be an unpopular issue to raise, but it galled her that while a lot of people were making a lot of money out of tourism through illegal holiday letting, it was wrong to expect the public purse to fund tourism when the industry was not paying its way.


It was all very well to say holiday letting was great for the community and business, but if something went wrong the council would bear the responsibility, she said.


Cr Simon Richardson said he was prepared to support the one-off donation to the centre to get it to a point to find out its long-term future.


A relieved Brunswick Heads Chamber of Commerce executive officer, Kim Rosen, welcomed the decision and thanked the council for its support.


Ms Rosen said when funding ceased due to changes in employment schemes, the centre had to become very entrepreneurial and creative to survive.


“The centre has all the usual running costs of a small business and operates a seven day per week service looking after visitors and locals and providing an engine room for community projects and events,” she said.


“It runs on a shoestring, with lots of volunteers and goodwill. Fourteen different revenue raising streams have been developed so far to collect enough money to fund a part-time manager, Shannon Dousling.


Tough times


“Shannon trains and manages up to 12 volunteers and well as overseeing the day-to-day operations. The visitor centre now looks after about 12,000 people a year.


"The local business community already plays a huge part in funding the visitor centre, but times are tough and small business resources can only stretch so far supporting community events and local causes."


Ms Rosen said the Hotel Brunswick, Eagle Insurance Brokers, Crystal Castle, Brunswick Seaside Holidays and Brunswick Holiday Parks between them contributed almost $10,000 to the running of the centre.


She said other sources of income included memberships, the sale of Simple Pleasures merchandise and souvenirs, rental of the back room and local products ‘cube’ space, internet and other IT services, website income, book exchange, commissions on bus tickets, projects and events and fundraising and donations.


A shortfall in the budget of just over $5000 this year meant the manager’s hours were going to have to be dropped down from three to two days per week from July, affecting the viable co-ordination of the centre and putting it at serious risk of having to close.


"That would have been heartbreaking after four years of hard work to get it to where it is today," she said.


"We are thrilled that council have recognised the vital role that the visitor centre plays in our community and our efforts to manage our tourism well through the Simple Pleasures campaign,” she said.


Ms Rosen said the chamber’s visitor centre management committee could concentrate on finding and developing additional revenue streams over the next six months.


“We’re determined to succeed, and we’re open to all offers of volunteer assistance, in kind support or even cash donations to get there," she said.
 


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