By Jeremy Sollars
The draft Southern Downs Regional Council Budget for 2017-2018 lists one sole expenditure item for tourism in the region – to the tune of $10,000 – despite council officers assuring tourism operators more has been allocated.
The draft budget was released on Monday 10 April for a 28-day public consultation period, with tourism operators eagerly awaiting its release.
As the Free Times reported on Thursday 6 April, many operators in both the Warwick and Stanthorpe areas have voiced concern about what they claim is a lack of communication from the council around their plans for tourism marketing of the region.
The council took over direct responsibility for tourism promotion last year from the former Destination Southern Downs body and employs staff in its Economic Development unit to oversee the task.
The draft budget contains a single funding allocation under the ‘Economic Development and Tourism’ heading – namely $10,000 to install air conditioning at the Stanthorpe Visitor Information Centre on Quart Pot Creek.
But council staff assured operators at the Warwick budget information session on Tuesday night this week there is other funding in the budget even though it is not specifically listed.
Operators have been concerned that as part of council’s overall funding cutbacks, money previously set aside for the Southern Downs and Granite Belt to be marketed by the regional tourism body Southern Queensland Country Tourism (SQCT) could be slashed.
A Stanthorpe tourism operator at the Tuesday night session asked council officers where the SQCT funding was located in the budget and was told “it’s part of Economic Development and Tourism, but it’s not in this document (the draft budget)”.
There are also concerns over the application of wastewater fees in the new budget and how they will apply to small tourism businesses such as bed and breakfasts, with council officers understood to have stated at Tuesday night’s session that a dwelling house on a property where another dwelling – such as a cottage – is used for accommodation is also classed as ‘commercial’.
The council has previously stated it is developing a new tourism website for the region and other marketing material, but operators have previously claimed they are not being kept updated as to progress with these initiatives.
Warwick operators have also voiced concern about council’s decision to shift the Warwick Visitor Information Centre from its previous space next to the Art Gallery to a small ground-floor room in the Warwick Town Hall, which some have said is less accessible to visitors.
Stanthorpe accommodation venues have reported a 14 to 30 per cent drop in occupancy over Easter 2017 as compared to previous years.
The Free Times was unsuccessful in obtaining a response from the council in relation to this story.