Destination management: giving the floor to the inhabitants

Rod Ritchie, President of the Cooroy Area Residents Association

Rod Ritchie, President of the Cooroy Area Residents Association

Noosa’s glossy tourist brochures show the smiling faces of couples strolling down chic Hastings Street, surfers hitting Noosa National Park’s iconic promenade and families strolling through the park lining Gympie Terrace where children paddle in the Noosa River. What could possibly go wrong? For visitors, nothing. However, residents are affected in so many ways that it is necessary to involve them in the planning management of this destination, their home.

Our previous council formed a Sustainable Tourism Stakeholder Reference Group made up of representatives from industry, council, environmental groups and residents. The aim of the group was to look at the benefits and impacts of tourism on our local community and make recommendations to Noosa Council and Tourism Noosa as appropriate. For 18 months, its 25 members met and debated the best way forward. When the 2020 election was called, the group disbanded without agreed recommendations. A last-minute request from the chairman of Tourism Noosa, asking resident groups to produce a draft agreement, was granted, but this was rejected by both industry and the main conservation body in the county.

With the new council, Covid-19 arrived, and after the lockdown and border closures, tourism became an intra-state affair; Noosa has lost its international and interstate visitors. Noosa tourism has had to shift from a high value/low volume dependency to a high value/low visitor value. The ensuing change in marketing led to a boom in day visitors, drive-ins and intrastate tours, and residents found themselves stuck in traffic, with stress on infrastructure like they don’t. previously only did during peak holiday periods. At the same time, some of our main visitor assets including the Headland section of Noosa National Park, Teewah Beach between the mouth of the Noosa River, Double Island Point and the Upper Noosa River and Cooloola Sandy Patch have had the chance to recover.

When Covid seemed to be less of a threat, the Council brought the caps on the number of events back to previous levels. State health mandates, which required interstate visitors to be limited to regulations applicable in their own states, were not applied here. The recent Omicron and later variants saw a shift from state government oversight to personal accountability. Since the Council stopped monitoring visitors’ compliance with mandates, residents concerned about their health risks had no choice but to avoid tourist areas.

The new way forward

More than two years after the beginning of the life of the new council, sustainable tourism is revisited. At the July 18 General Meeting, Council staff proposed a very basic plan for a Project Control Group (PCG) to formulate a destination management plan. Unfortunately, the residents were left behind. We were obviously expected to accept whatever was decided by a PCG including: Mayor, Noosa Council (Chairman); Councilor 1, Noosa Council; Councilor 2, Noosa Council; Chairman, Noosa Tourism; CEO, Earthcheck; CEO, Noosa Council; and ESD Director, Noosa Council. Alongside this group’s proposal, the abandonment of the tourist tax was confirmed in the new budget. This meant that all taxpayers had to pay Tourism Noosa’s marketing and operating costs as well as tourism infrastructure. All pay and nothing to say!

Fortunately, Cr Stockwell proposed amendments at the regular meeting on Thursday. These included the important principles that the board:

• Establish governance around the project that incorporates a “whole board”, “whole community” approach to plan development.

• Appoint up to three additional community members with relevant community and industry experience and qualifications.

• Ask the joint internal and external PCG at its first meeting to develop a participatory approach to guiding the plan process. These were adopted unanimously.

Councillors’ representatives to the PCG, excluding the Mayor, shall be Crs Lorentson and Stockwell.

Noosa has a proud tourism history. Most of us were regular visitors before moving here. The industry has built up impressive assets using the natural beauty and the savvy planning guidelines that councils over the years have instituted for the benefit of residents and visitors. However, the days when tourism was the lifeblood of the county are fading. This was proven during the peak Covid period when local economic engines such as health, services, construction, retail and education kicked in to keep the economy on track. way. We risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Moreover, we risk hampering an emerging IT industry, which has the potential to be world-class.

For residents, giving industry the management of your town is a pretty sure way to disrupt the fabric of the place we call home. Evidence must guide us in the future. Establishing acceptable visitor numbers for hotspots will be necessary if Noosa is to avoid over-tourism, overcrowding and congestion, and proactively manage a sustainable tourism industry. As part of this assessment of acceptable visitor numbers, the following should be considered:

• A gradual introduction of managing the acceptable number of visitors in hotspots using an appropriate combination of methods, and

• A negotiated ‘give and take’ package between Noosa’s tourism, business, residents and environment sectors and Noosa Council.

With the 2032 Brisbane Olympics on people’s minds, it might be wishful thinking to assume we can keep Noosa special. I hope not. With careful planning that involves all areas of the county and all the talent we have here, it just might be possible.


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