July 28th 2009
A Magnetic LTO raises sustainable hopes
On Sunday night about forty local business people attended a meeting to, “Have your say” about the imminent formation of a Magnetic Island Local Tourism Organisation (LTO) which has been developed by a number of Island business people since an informal meeting to gauge interest last September was prompted by Townsville City Council's Economic Development Unit.
The meeting was introduced by Ms Lindsay Simpson from Providence Sailing who outlined the story so far and put the case as to why such an organisation was necessary. Assisted with a power point Lindsay Simpson noted that Magnetic is surrounded by communities with LTOs; Tourism Queensland and Townsville City Council not only support it but have “been waiting” for it to come about. She underlined the importance of tourism which brings 18 million visitors to Queensland annually.
The present steering committee had suggested that the LTO become an incorportated body, should comprise twelve members and that an LTO database of tourism related material about Magnetic Island be complied.
Lindsay Simpson went on to outline the suggested objectives of the organisation which were to: promote Magnetic as a premier tourist destination; to facilitate and promote increased tourist numbers to Magnetic; to promote Island businesses and to initiate/facilitate and take on a key role in applying for relevant funding grants; gain an economy of scale for cheaper advertising; to have a voice and act as a liaison with regional and state tourism bodies and to initiate membership drives and networking opportunities.
Guest speaker, Mr Bob Flemming, owner of eco-tourism destinations, Billabong Sanctuary south of Townsville and Bungalow Bay Koala Village on Magnetic, outlined his and wife Del's very successful business history in the region.
Their approach was based on the insight, 25 years ago, that European tourists, especially, were hugely attracted to Aussie wildlife and that, at the time, with Townsville having an international airport, they could attract such clients. They did this with 80 per cent of their visitors coming from Europe. But when QANTAS decided to leave Townsville for Cairns their client base plummetted. The lesson they were quick to learn was how to adapt to the changed circumstances and target locals and others instead. In essence Bob Flemming put their success down to a combination of very hard work, learning to adapt and never concentrating their efforts in one area alone. His quietly personable and unpretentious approach must also have been a plus in an industry usually brimming with hype.
Bob Flemming reminded those attending that after gaining success in the region he felt it incumbent upon himself to “put back” into the development of the local economy and, in his case, has meant taking positions on Townsville Enterprise and being actively involved in the formation of the Magnetic Island and Townsville Backpackers Association.
Prompted by a question from Community and Cultural Development Committee President, Lorna Hempstead, Bob noted an LTO's enhanced capacity to cross promote all of a region or locality rather than individual member businesses at the large trade shows where expenses can also be lowered by shared costs with other bodies for “booth space.”
Bob Flemming's talk was then followed by another power point from The Missing Link consultancy's Kim Forde, (unable to attend) who spent the previous week on MI assisting businesses with energy audits to increase their environmental sustainability and reduce running costs. Simple and effective energy-saving measures with an emphasis on their capacity to save money were presented.
At the meeting's end, steering committee member Sara Shaw urged those attending to complete a questionnaire that: sought a response to various priorities for the body; called for suggestions and expressions of interest in joining and or standing for committee membership. The form can be obtained from Sara Shaw by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
It was indeed a positive meeting with a welcome sense of openness to all who wish to contribute and it seemed that local business people were keen to get involved.
The most noticeable direction in the range of matters discussed was that of Magnetic Island taking up a profile as an eco-friendly/sustainable destination. And, while such sentiments are laudable, it will be interesting to see how “sustainable” - a term thats definition can easily vary depending on who is using it - will play out against other goals one expects the body to embrace such as increasing growth in tourism to Magnetic.
Embracing green objectives and echoing Minister Lawlor's pitch that Magnetic could, through sustainability practices, become a, “guilt free” destination for eco-footprint conscious tourists, was flagged. And while this makes for great marketing it nonetheless buys directly into the underlying, epoch-defining, issue of climate change.
With this region's most precious asset, The Great Barrier Reef, acknowledged as one of the most climate change-threatened natural wonders of the world and the ultimate source of nearly all local tourist businesses' revenue, will we see a representative and coherent organisation such as a Magnetic LTO, starting to put its business argument up against other industries which directly and indirectly threaten its economic and environmental survival?
Coal exporters, the sugar and cattle industries have all held enormous clout over government policy so will it now be time for the sun-baking giant that attracts most of the 18 million tourists to Queensland, through organisations such as a Magnetic LTO, to show it can defend its very precious turf and, in so doing, make significant contribution to our country and planet's environmental welfare?
For an organisation, which is yet to formally form, such lofty expectations are, at least for the moment, over the horizon. But few can now ignore the stakes at play for the Great Barrier Reef, least of all those whose businesses depend upon it. But, with the energy already demonstrated by this small informal committee, one might begin to hope that, beyond the usual roles of enhancing business networking and building collective purchasing power, the GBR-based tourist industry will find a collective voice for real preservation over exploitation.
Timing for the next meeting has required some rescheduling. Once settled the date will be advised by Magnetic Times.
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