Former Mayor Ron Bellingham asks residents to embrace and engage with the new Destination Southern Downs group.
Former Mayor Ron Bellingham asks residents to embrace and engage with the new Destination Southern Downs group. Contributed

Meeting hears Southern Downs group boosts our tourism

SOUTHERN Downs residents heard that plans to merge the region's two tourism bodies will go ahead at a meeting at Warwick Town Hall on Thursday evening.

Warwick Tourism and Events will merge with Granite Belt Wine and Tourism to form a single tourism body under the banner of "Destination Southern Downs" from July 1. Mayor Peter Blundell said it was the goal of the new group to promote all of the Southern Downs, and co-operate to maximise reputation and exceed visitor expectations.

"We want to increase economic strength for the community," Cr Blundell said.

"Jobs will be created and it will strengthen business generally across the Southern Downs."

The decision to merge the groups into a single tourism body has been under debate for some time, following industry recommendations by the Tourism Transfer Reference Group.

The attending public shared their concerns about the amount of time it has taken for the conclusion to be made.

"It is time now we get on with implementation," Cr Blundell said.

"We need to move on so we can all as a community benefit from the effects."

Southern Downs Regional Council CEO David Keenan said the amalgamation would have wonderful opportunities to leverage tourism with agribusiness in the region.

"The tourist wants quality products, good customer service and the assurance of a good time," Mr Keenan said.

In 2012, tourism brought $50 million each day to the state economy in visitor expenditure.

There have been previous concerns that iconic Warwick events may lose council funding under the new organisation, however Cr Blundell assures that committed funding will stay the same for this financial year.

"The concept of a $160,000 cut is not accurate," Cr Blundell said. "The council has a significant role to play and we should continue to commit to tourism."

Former Warwick Tourism and Events chairman and mayor Ron Bellingham mourned the loss of the group as a stand-alone organisation and the significant challenges a new organisation presented.

But he hoped a united tourism body would be successful for the community.

"The industry is part of the community, and if we don't remember we will achieve nothing," Mr Bellingham said.

"There is a different type of tourism embraced by Stanthorpe, but these differences complement each other.

"There is no need for conflict; we need to be resilient and allow the area to thrive."

There are also fears that an umbrella regional tourism group would neglect smaller towns like Killarney and Allora.

With the project still in its infancy it is hoped existing visitor information centres and smaller centres can be used to effectively represent local businesses and attractions throughout the region.

"I'm asking you as a community... if this is the way the council is heading, please embrace it and engage with it," Mr Bellingham told the crowd.

"But if things are wrong you need to stand up and say so."

Mr Bellingham also thanked Warwick Tourism and Events staff for their achievements, who had taken the time to engage and work together with the community.

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