Get­ting busi­ness to an­swer the call of na­ture

The Weekend Australian - - THE NATION - JOHN FER­GU­SON

The for­mer head of the na­tion’s peak farm­ing lobby wants the pri­vate sec­tor to play a piv­otal role bol­ster­ing Vic­to­ria’s $11.5 bil­lion na­ture-based tourism mar­ket, open­ing the door for com­mer­cial ven­tures un­der­pin­ning parks and wilder­ness ar­eas.

Parks Vic­to­ria chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Si­mon Tal­bot is draw­ing on his ex­pe­ri­ences at the Na­tional Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion and retail giant Coles to en­cour­age greater cor­po­rate and small-busi­ness ac­tiv­ity, with a fo­cus on food, bev- er­age and ac­com­mo­da­tion to ex­pand the na­ture dol­lar.

Mr Tal­bot is kick-start­ing the next stage of com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the states, which started with ma­jor events, to build a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence for do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors.

He told The Week­end Aus­tralian that talks were un­der way with cor­po­rate Aus­tralia, with the aim of re­tain­ing vis­i­tors in re­gional Vic­to­ria.

Busi­ness is be­ing en­cour­aged to in­vest in re­gional towns and around parks amid an ex­plo­sion in Chi­nese tourism in­vest­ment of nearly 400 per cent na­tion­ally in the past seven years, with in­creas­ing num­bers of Asian trav­ellers shun­ning buses and in­stead driv­ing them­selves.

“They are look­ing for a be­spoke rather than col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, which is good from a na­ture-based per­spec­tive,’’ Mr Tal­bot said.

The strat­egy doesn’t mean pri­vate sec­tor in­ter­fer­ence with the en­vi­ron­ment, rather en­cour­ag­ing busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties that will build on the tourist ex­pe­ri­ence.

Vic­to­ria re­ceived a to­tal of more than 20 mil­lion in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic vis­i­tors in 2015-16, up 16.2 per cent.

“We don’t nec­es­sar­ily need more vis­i­ta­tions, we need bet­ter qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ences ... It’s not a good ex­pe­ri­ence if you’re look­ing for a beau­ti­ful na­ture es­cape and you can’t get ac­com­mo­da­tion or you have to have a five-hour trip back to Mel­bourne,’’ Mr Tal­bot said.

The ben­e­fits of a more ag­gres­sive, pri­vate sec­tor re­sponse to parks come in both eco­nomics and ed­u­ca­tion. “If peo­ple don’t see the beauty of na­ture then they’re not go­ing to care about it,” he said. “And if they’re not go­ing to care about it, they’re not go­ing to pro­tect (it).’’

The tourism dol­lars in Aus­tralia are huge, with just un­der $40bn spent by in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors in the year to March. The na­ture-based mar­ket in Vic­to­ria was worth an es­ti­mated $11.5bn last fi­nan­cial year, up 15.4 per cent. The sort of bou­tique at­trac­tions be­ing con­sid­ered in­clude mo­bile gourmet food vans; in the case of the Dan­de­nong Ranges in Mel­bourne’s outer east, there are four parks within cooee of restaurateur Shan­non Ben­nett’s Pig­gery Cafe. “So peo­ple can have their walk and have their cake and eat it,’’ Mr Tal­bot added.

Mr Tal­bot, an avid bush­walker, joined Parks Vic­to­ria this year af­ter stints lead­ing the Coles ex­port busi­ness into Asia, as a di­rec­tor at Mon­delez In­ter­na­tional (Kraft and Cad­bury) and 18 months head­ing up the Na­tional Farm­ers Fed­er­a­tion un­til last year.

DAVID GER­AGHTY

Parks Vic­to­ria chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer Si­mon Tal­bot at the You Yangs Na­tional Park. Tourists want ‘a be­spoke rather than col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence’

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