Parliamentary speech on tourism in the Limestone Coast
The Hon. Z.L. BETTISON (Ramsay) (15:35): I rise today to talk about my recent visit to the Limestone Coast. Most of my time was spent as a member of the Economic and Finance Committee, but I spent the first part of my time meeting with key stakeholders across my shadow portfolio of trade, tourism and investment. I thank the Hon. Clare Scriven in the other place for joining me in what is an absolutely beautiful part of South Australia.
The Limestone Coast has more direct tourism employment than any other region in South Australia. In 2017, visitors spent $321 million. One in 18 jobs is supported by the tourism industry, and there are nearly 800 tourism businesses in the Limestone Coast. It is predominantly a self-drive visitor market, connecting up with the Great Ocean Road and the South Australian Southern Ocean Drive touring route, which we have promoted quite substantially and which highlights the region's beautiful landscapes, the wildlife experiences and the local food and wine.
The Regional Visitors Strategy released last year looked at the priorities for the area: an increase in overnight visitors from both international and domestic markets and the conversion of daytrippers to linger longer and stay overnight. These are the key priorities of that strategy, as well as upgrading rooms from three star to four star and increasing accommodation at scale in the Coonawarra. Another priority is about strengthening the promotion of events—for example, Generations in Jazz, the Penola Coonawarra Arts Festival and the Coonawarra Cabernet Celebrations.
During my time, I had the opportunity to meet with Biddie Shearing from the Limestone Coast LGA and talk about the many positives happening in the area, particularly developing the tourism and visitor economy. She is working with local tourism businesses to be visible and bookable online. Only a proportion of businesses in the Limestone Coast—about 300—are listed on the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse, and that is an important place to be in order for people to find you online. She is working on building the capacity of the local region. They are also launching the Guides of Mount Gambier, which means that you can have a one-on-one opportunity or a small group opportunity for locals to show you the best places in Mount Gambier.
I also spent some time with the Wattle Range Council, which includes Millicent, Penola and Beachport, amongst others. They are very focused on tourism and developing their regional area. They are very RV friendly—and they have had many conversations with the Cave Divers Association, who have had increased interest in the many opportunities that the caves present around that area—and they are very excited because they are building a nature play area near the council chambers, including a rage cage, which is new to me; apparently, it lets people do many things, such as basketball, etc. They talked to me about their beautiful golf course in Millicent. Others might be familiar with it, as it is one of the top 100 courses in Australia, and they are looking at the opportunity of developing it in the future.
What was most interesting to me is the future they see for value-adding with the artisan food in the area, not just for its exporting potential but for on-farm tourism experiences as well. However, they do have challenges. The Southern Ports Highway needs work, and they are keen to activate the Coonawarra rail trail. They will also be hosting the Great Victorian Bike Ride and need some support, so they have asked me to advocate on their behalf for that event in October.
Despite all these positive developments in tourism, it is so disappointing to hear this week that we are going backwards in the number of international visitors to South Australia. We are down year on year for visitor numbers, spending and international visitor nights. With 40 per cent of spend in regional areas, this is very concerning as it is down 3.5 per cent on regional trip expenditure for international visitors. It is not because tourism is down nationally—everyone else is up—but what is different here is the $11 million cut from the budget. Sources tell me there are more cuts to come in this budget. It is a key industry employing 36,000 South Australians. Tourism equals jobs—no more cuts.