A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 55, June 2003
Rural Tourism
Rural tourism is an important component of economic development for rural towns and Shires. It is an easy way to gain economic development and it is an easy way to loose it.
A tourist is somebody who will go to a place for a specific reason or one that is passing through a town. The key is to attract the person to the place and then keep them there, provide them with a pleasant stay - even if it is only a couple of hours, and encourage them to spend money. If they had a good experience, they will tell others who will go there and so on. If they had a bad experience, they will also tell others who will not go to the town.
As with all issues of economic development, there has to be vision, commitment and a willingness shown by all of the people who are affected to get things done. Local Government has a role to play in the tourist promotion but this should be in partnership with the local tourist industry.
To this end, most Council areas will have a tourist board of some sort, which has representatives from the various tourist operations, the local Chamber of Commerce and the Council. Funding for the board is usually provided by a range of sources including the membership, Government grants as well as the local Council.
There are some things that can be used to promote tourism in an area. They include the urban design of the town centre, the attitude of the tourist operators, local shopkeepers and local residents, niche activities and events.
Urban design is an issue that is becoming more prevalent in rural towns. The improvement of the main street of a country town can be a cost-effective way of encouraging tourism. It doesn't have to be elaborate and can start small with a few planter boxes and colour schemes for the painting of buildings. If the local Chamber of Commerce can be encouraged to help it will be easier to get it done. Some examples are Lockhart which has incorporated its distinctive verandas into its main street urban design, Batemans Bay which has created a riverside walkway behind the main street and small towns like Mudgee which has instituted a program of widening footpaths and altering the pavement treatments. The thing that they all have in common is that they are making the area more attractive to the visitors.
If the main street is a pleasant looking street with some trees and planter boxes with a few seats and an attractive park nearby, it will entice somebody to stop and shop or even stay the night. If it is all road with no trees or parks and not attractive, chances are that the traveller (tourist) will drive on to the next town that may have an attractive main street that they have been told about by other visitors to that town. But if the tourist has a pleasant experience in the first town, they are likely to tell others about it and so on.
The attitude of the local shopkeepers, tourist operators and residents to visitors (tourists) is important. The issues are similar to the main street. If the shop assistants and residents are helpful and cheerful the tourist will have a pleasant experience and will want to return and tell friends about it. If on the other hand the staff are inattentive and rude, the tourist will not have a happy experience and will be unlikely to return and will also tell others.
One thing about tourism is to make the area unique in some way. The easiest way is to build on something that is already in place. Some examples are the Koala colony in Gunnedah, the Wineries in the Hunter Valley and Mudgee as well as the coastal areas of the north and south coast. The key thing is to find a niche and promote it.
Lastly, one tourism attractor is festivals. These are held all around the country. They are very successful and can 'put a town on the map'. Some examples are the Mudgee Wine Festival, the Stroud Brick throwing competition, the Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet, the Byron Bay Blues Festival and Tulip Time in Bowral. All of these festivals have one thing in common - they bring lots of tourists to the town who will spend money there.
Tourism is an easy way for a rural area to gain economic development. However, it has to be done well. The issues raised above and the examples cited are testaments to good tourism. As well as the income they generate they also have one other thing in common - commitment, leadership and action by the local community working as a partnership. You never get a second chance at a first impression.
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