Getting business to answer the call of nature
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.
Parks Victoria chief operating officer Simon Talbot at the You Yangs National Park. Tourists want ‘a bespoke rather than collective experience’