Where does the money go?

Taxpayer funded state tourism authorities spend the dosh from one election cycle to the next. With rare exception, they’re guided by trends, twisting the message to suit the latest Minister in the big chair at the pointy end of the plane of state. Back-bending like Olympian athletes when it comes to maintaining the status quo, they simultaneously pull off a rare feat. How to please a complacent bureaucracy and a fickle market? The answer is a simple one. In NSW particularly, stick to the party line and don’t do much.

Apparently the best way to spend the money is to recycle the same message over and over again. Any sort of intrepidity shown by an eager staffer, such as a new idea, could result in a head lopped off, or worse, an overall budget reduction. It’s better to keep a low profile, or better yet, hire an outside consultant. Once the consultant has left the building, an easy scapegoat is found when tourism numbers aren’t, once again, stacking up as planned.

The NSW mini-budget of November 08 announced an increase in spending of $40 million from Government and $20 million from industry. This largesse from a government struggling to keep its head above water announces that its strategic plan is about, “growing a vibrant tourism sector in NSW by increasing the state’s domestic and international visitation through a collaborative approach between Government and Industry.” Pardon me while I gaze into ubiquitous Harbour side scenery and contemplate a nap.

A new “Brand Sydney”, with a fresh executive in control, is also in the works. According to the official NSW Tourism blurb, “Even though Sydney has a strong international reputation, there is no coordinated brand strategy to sustain, enhance or capitalise on this strength.” This new project is to be overseen by the Premier of New South Wales and the Minister for Tourism.

What? No coordinated brand strategy? Has everyone at Tourism NSW been asleep for the last twenty years? I recollect that Sydney had a strong brand identity in 2000, when Olympic fervour was at its most energetic pitch. Didn’t at least one billion people watch the big branding exercise?

Since 2000, visitor numbers have dwindled, naturally after the international hoopla of the Olympic Games. Many international tourists would have made their first and only visit to coincide with the biggest sports show on the planet. What failed thereafter was the implementation of a focused approach to imprint the brand. The global mindset was ready for an injection of different stories to engender further interest. When the Olympics finished, Sydney dropped off the travel map. Why a coordinated tourism strategy wasn’t adopted long ago is a question that most travel writers would like answered.

For starters why not initiate a change to NSW antiquated liquor licensing laws? Try getting a decent meal in Sydney after 10pm. It’s easier to eat the fruit off an expensive cocktail in a flashy bar, but certainly not cheaper. The AHA (Australian Hotel’s Association) NSW branch has a lot to answer for. Getting a drink and dine licence in NSW is difficult. Sydney’s excellent climate, rich with opportunities for outdoor dining is wasted. Instead, pubs and clubs do great business in dark holes with abundant pokies constantly going ka-ching. But that’s where the tax revenue rolls in and Labor Party coffers are kept topped up. Tell that to a hungry Spanish traveller looking for an open restaurant.