Cen­tre’s fate de­cided

The Cobram Courier - - NEWS - By Kenji Sato

Plans for sweep­ing changes to Co­bram’s tourism in­dus­try have been amended fol­low­ing strong push-back from the com­mu­nity.

Moira Shire Coun­cil’s draft Vis­i­tor Ser­vices Strat­egy re­ceived a pe­ti­tion of more than 1000 sig­na­tures from lo­cals who were wor­ried about the fate of Co­bram’s vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion cen­tre.

The original draft plan re­leased in June did not in­clude any men­tion of the fu­ture of Co­bram’s vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, lead­ing to fears the cen­tre would close down.

Lo­cals were there­fore re­lieved when coun­cil re­leased an amended Vis­i­tor Ser­vices Strat­egy, which planned for the cen­tre to live on as a non-ac­cred­ited vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion cen­tre.

The new Vis­i­tor Ser­vices Strat­egy passed unan­i­mously at a coun­cil meet­ing on Septem­ber 27 with nine amendments.

Moira Shire Coun­cil’s eco­nomic devel­op­ment man­ager Jane O’Brien said the amended draft was based on com­mu­nity feed­back.

‘‘Coun­cil has ab­so­lutely taken on board peo­ple’s con­cerns and we have added four more rec­om­men­da­tions,’’ Ms O’Brien said.

‘‘This is why con­sul­ta­tion with the com­mu­nity is so im­por­tant for us.’’

Cath Noo­nan was the per­son who or­gan­ised the lo­cal pe­ti­tion to save the in­for­ma­tion cen­tre, which gath­ered about 1350 sig­na­tures.

She said she was ‘‘on board’’ with some of the new changes, but wanted more coun­cil sup­port to keep the cen­tre run­ning smoothly.

Un­der the amended plans, coun­cil would with­draw fund­ing and ac­cred­i­ta­tion from the cen­tre, which would in­stead be run by a pri­vate owner.

‘‘I agree the cen­tre should be non-ac­cred­ited, but I don’t agree with coun­cil want­ing the cen­tre to be 100 per cent pri­va­tised so they can wash their hands of it,’’ Mrs Noo­nan said.

‘‘It still needs fund­ing and con­trol from the shire to make sure Co­bram can keep its vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion cen­tre up and run­ning.’’

She said Co­bram needed a well-main­tained tourist cen­tre in or­der to re­main a strong tourist town.

‘‘We have about 18 peo­ple that love to go in the cen­tre and vol­un­teer their time to run it be­cause the cen­tre is so im­por­tant to the com­mu­nity,’’ she said.

Ms O’Brien said the de­ci­sion to with­draw fund­ing and ac­cred­i­ta­tion was based on the cen­tre’s fall­ing vis­i­tor rate.

‘‘At the mo­ment we spend around 60 per cent of our bud­get on the bricks and mor­tar side of the vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion cen­tre which ser­vices less than 20 per cent of the vis­i­tors,’’ she said.

‘‘We would rein­vest some of the money we would save into on­line and tar­get­ing mar­ket­ing prac­tices.

‘‘It’s about rein­vest­ing that money and is in no way a re­duc­tion of com­mit­ment to tourism from this or­gan­i­sa­tion.’’

The money will go to­wards a num­ber of ‘ser­vice strate­gies’ in­clud­ing a tar­geted vis­it­ing friends and rel­a­tives cam­paign, pop-up vans for ma­jor events and vis­i­tor in­for­ma­tion points with par­tic­i­pat­ing lo­cal busi­nesses.

‘‘The world is chang­ing and if we con­tinue to op­er­ate the way we did 10 or 20 years ago we’re go­ing to fall be­hind,’’ Ms O’Brien said.

‘‘The ratepay­ers pay their rates and they trust us to make wise de­ci­sions with the fi­nances.

‘‘If we look at how we can get a higher re­turn on in­vest­ment we can get more vis­i­tors to the re­gion which bol­sters the lo­cal econ­omy.’’

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