MERGER: Granite Belt Wine and Tourism is set to merge with Warwick Tourism and Events to create one Local Tourism Organisation.
MERGER: Granite Belt Wine and Tourism is set to merge with Warwick Tourism and Events to create one Local Tourism Organisation. Contributed

Tourism board merger ire

GRANITE Belt Wine and Tourism is set to merge with Warwick Tourism and Events.

GBWT marketing manager Sarah Reeves said she was "dissappointed with the way council has handled has handled the process".

The Southern Downs Regional Council yesterday announced the two bodies would amalgamate to form a single Local Tourism Organisation by July 2014.

Ms Reeves said while collaboration and equity across the region was a good idea, marketing the Southern Downs under one brand would set local campaigns back seven years.

"We've got three different types of marketing in the Southern Downs region," she said.

"Some cross over, for example nature and adventure crosses the whole Southern Downs, but the food and wine side of things is very much the Granite Belt.

"We've worked for seven years to get recognition for the Granite Belt Wine Country brand. If that falls through it's going to upset a lot of people."

Ms Reeves, who only received notification of the planned merger yesterday afternoon, said a lack of communication from the council had left employees fearing for their jobs.

"This is extremely disappointing on two counts - one that the outcome has somehow changed without community consultation, and two there's been no communication from council at all. It's creating a huge amount of stress for staff," she said.

"How you communicate with people is really important - people's livelihoods are at stake."

Also disappointed with the lack of communication was GBWT board president Bill James.

Mr James was a member of the Southern Downs Regional Tourism Advisory Committee, appointed by councillors last year to determine the best way forward for Stanthorpe and Warwick tourism.

Mr James said the council's decision went against recommendations put forward by the committee, which stipulated that no amalgamation occur unless agreed upon by all stakeholders involved.

"There are a lot of doubts about whether the two organisations will work as one, because the two areas are totally different for tourism," he said.

"There was never any certainty that full amalgamation was going to happen.

"The whole idea of the oversight committee was to see whether we can work closer together, and at the end of 12 months we were going to look and see whether to proceed with full amalgamation or leave them separate."

Southern Downs Mayor Peter Blundell said stakeholders would play a big part in organising the structure of the new Local Tourism Organisation.

Cr Blundell said representatives from Granite Belt Wine and Tourism, Warwick Tourism and Events and the Stanthorpe and Warwick Chambers of Commerce had been called upon to form a transition board to oversee the merger.

"The transition board will be largely drawn from industry representatives as was the advisory committee, so there is a good deal of industry ownership of how the tourism strategy is to be implemented," he said.

An expression of interest will be advertised in the near future inviting a further six people with tourism expertise to nominate for the transition board.

However Mr James and Ms Reeves said there was not nearly enough time to iron out the details before July next year, as required by the council.

The move to the single entity has been on the council's agenda for more than a year, starting when SDRC hired Team Tourism to assemble a Southern Downs Regional Tourism Strategy - which was presented to the council in July 2012.

The decision to merge the tourism bodies was made at the October general council meeting just over a week ago.

Mr James said it would be interesting to see how the merger was going to work.

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