VISITORS WELCOME: The new group, Destination Southern Downs, is set to work to bring tourists to both the Southern Downs and Granite Belt regions.
VISITORS WELCOME: The new group, Destination Southern Downs, is set to work to bring tourists to both the Southern Downs and Granite Belt regions. File

Rumours quashed: Mayor says there will be no cuts to tourism

THE mayor has moved to quash concerns that funding to Southern Downs' tourism will be cut when Warwick and Stanthorpe's tourism bodies are amalgamated into one group, Destination Southern Downs.

Southern Downs Mayor Peter Blundell said funding from council to the two existing tourism bodies, Warwick Tourism and Events and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism, would remain the same for the next financial year, and that alleged cuts of $160,000 were inaccurate.

"There will be no funding cut to tourism," Cr Blundell said.

"After July 1, 2015, council will direct funding to the single entity, Destination Southern Downs, instead of Warwick Tourism and Events and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism."

The creation of a new single tourism entity follows recommendations by the Tourism Transfer Reference Group to increase funding to tourism.

Warwick Tourism and Events board chair Majella Kahler said the report released by council had assured that all permanent staff in both current tourism groups were guaranteed employment until July 2016.

"There will be no cuts to funding, but there won't be any increases either," Mrs Kahler said.

"In real terms of the cost of operations and wages, there is the possibility the value of tourism will decrease."

Warwick Tourism and Events, which is fully funded by Southern Downs Regional Council, will be replaced entirely by Destination Southern Downs when it begins operations on July 1 this year.

Granite Belt Wine and Tourism gains funding from both council and paid memberships.

The organisation will continue to operate as a single entity without council funding when Destination Southern Downs is established, instead relying on financial support of its paid members.

A membership scheme may be introduced to Visitor Information Centres under the new group, but it is unclear whether it will be a paid system.

'Believe in it, we can make it work'

CONCERNS regarding the creation of a single tourism body and its effects on the region's smaller communities continue to be a hot debate in the wake of the public meeting held last week.

Bev Ruskey of Spring Creek Cafe at The Head said the success of the new tourism body depended on forward thinking people coming on board.

"We don't need negativity, we have had enough of that," Mrs Ruskey said. "If you believe in something you can make it work."

Mrs Ruskey explained that she was sceptical when the possibility for a larger tourism body first came about and thought a small area like Killarney would be lost, but has found the opposite to have happened.

"Killarney gets some great promotion and exposure, much better than in the past," she said.

"Of course, this is also because the operators in the Killarney area work hard to keep good products - for example, Queen Mary Falls Tourist Park, Cambanoora Tours, and the Southern Downs Harvest Lunch."

She also attributed success to the waterfalls and mountain views that are "a true jewel in the crown of the Southern Downs", but agrees that the existing Southern Queensland Country Tourism has been a great vehicle for their message.

"I have faith that our new Destination Southern Downs will work if we want it to," Mrs Ruskey said.

There are hopes council will use existing Visitor Information Centres to represent local hospitality and businesses throughout the region with the creation of the new group, Destination Southern Downs.

It is not yet confirmed whether new information centres will service small communities.


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