VISITORS GUIDED: Tourism portfolio councillor Rod Kelly says the future of tourism is looking bright for the Southern Downs, while others say they're being kept in the dark.
VISITORS GUIDED: Tourism portfolio councillor Rod Kelly says the future of tourism is looking bright for the Southern Downs, while others say they're being kept in the dark. Sophie Lester

Is tourism taking off?

ALMOST six months on from the demise of Destination Southern Downs, industry stakeholders say the future of tourism in the region remains unclear.

Southern Downs Regional Council announced in May it would withdraw funding for the tourism body in favour of in-house tourism.

Now falling under the control of the council Economic Development and Tourism Unit, manager Scott Templeman is leading a team of three staff to oversee the region's tourism.

Tourism portfolio councillor Rod Kelly said with tourism on the rise across the Southern Queensland Country area, the council focus was on attracting visitors to the region.

"Our strategy will focus on building on the region's strengths and telling our story,” Cr Kelly said.

"International market results mirror the domestic trend with an increase in holiday visitors at 7.8%.

"The challenge is in dispersal to ensure our area benefits from the number of predicted visitors.

"We plan to have more social media and direct marketing than we have in the past, targeting specific markets such as Asian, European and domestic visitors. We need to capitalise on what we already have in our region.”

Cr Kelly said the new unit also wanted to recognise all operators across the region.

One such operator is Majella Kahler, owner of Kahler's Oasis Caravan Park and former chair of Warwick Tourism and Events.

Mrs Kahler said she had been pleased by the initial efforts of the council to engage operators but they still had a long road ahead to restore public confidence.

"I will give credit to the council for giving the presentation to operators that was requested, but this communication needs to be done on a regular basis,” she said.

"The council needs to gain the support and confidence of the operators and the community.

"It wouldn't matter who was (looking after tourism), confidence has been low due to constant changes in the past few years and they have a major hurdle to get over.

"It will be up to the tourism advisory committee and council staff to prove its the right step forward for tourism.

"Thus far I've only seen as much as was included in the presentation but I look forward in future to seeing what outcomes there are.”

Former mayor Ron Bellingham said there needed to be greater transparency from the council, particularly in regard to the direction of tourism. A huge proponent for tourism and events, Mr Bellingham said was he frustrated to see the progress made by Warwick Tourism and Events lost.

"I think in the mess that's happened we've lost a fair bit of enthusiasm from the community that it desperately needs as this stage,” he said.

"When Warwick Tourism and Events was formed in about 2002 I saw our tourism go from disaster to a great entity, to being completely destroyed and now being rebuilt again.

"I feel it's a common sentiment that where the council is planning to take tourism has not been articulated particularly well.

"My belief is the best model existed two years ago and it's now up to the present council to show they will be able to drive tourism and the economy.”

The council declined requests for the Daily News to interview Mr Templeman.


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