What advice do rural tourism experts have for your destination?

What does a roomful of rural tourism experts talk about?
We found out when we attended a Rural Tourism Forum recently along with state, regional and local governments and tourism organisations from across southern Queensland. 

Should you promote your town or your experiences? 

The majority of people who go to Longreach are going to see its two big experiences – the Qantas Founders Museum and the Stockman’s Hall of Fame – not the town – so market your experiences! Experiences draw people, not towns. 

Councils think they have to promote themselves rather than promote tourism – they want their shire name on everything. But a local government is really just a convenient administrative entity – and we lost a whole bunch of them in a moment in Queensland a decade ago in a local government merger.  

Shire promotion sign.png

It’s not only marketing but also industry and product development.

A cost-effective way to start is with a local tour operator to get visitors out of town such as to places explorers visited. This is an opportunity for a career for a young person, which is especially important in the outback. Tour operator businesses are low cost to start up, they can keep young people in town where they can afford to buy a house – and it gives them local pride.

You have to find a way to monetise your effort or the effort won’t be sustainable.
Give a new product time to get popular – including when working in collaboration with others. Don’t try it once then give up; it’s a long game. 

Maintain focus on improving what you already have before building the new shiny thing. Expand your older attractions.

Think big. 
A lot of little towns are stuck in 1970s. “We’ve always closed for lunch from 12 to 1.” 
Don’t underestimate your assets: your people. Believe in yourselves and create a plan. 
Think big doesn’t mean build big: visitors want to experience a destination like a local! 

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Give people passing through a reason to stop and stay. Every place you go to, you get a gut feel if you want to stay or not. Have a great entry to town and beautiful aesthetics plus good customer service to slow down the passing visitors. 

Understand consumers – it’s not about what we have but what they want. Be relevant. Be consumer-led. Small businesses are not their own customers. Talk to your customers!
(And make sure you promote what to do with kids for four days.)


Collaborate and leverage each other. Refer to each other across the region. Share your marketing plans – not to copy but to leverage and align.

Does your town have a progress group and a tourism group and a P&C and a heritage group and a business chamber and so on?  If these all came together and worked as one group on a common goal this would mean more energy, focused energy and fewer meetings!

If your Council spends money on a mountain bike track then market it if you’re an accommodation or create an event from it if you’re an event manager or local tourism group. Leverage your local assets.

Events are a big opportunity

Events are a big opportunity! Do rural communities know how to leverage events

Create events, not on your own, but with school hospitality students, Council, other community groups, etc. 

However, successful events get pressure to give back to community - then the event dies. Local governments try to make money out of events (for example with taxes) which creates friction in the event committee which erodes the event away. 




Does the structure of our industry help us or hurt us?

Councils are confused by tourism groups: regional tourism organisations, state tourism organisations, tourism industry councils – where should their energy and resources be invested? Their budget gets invested all over but not leveraged. Find out where you are getting the best bang for your buck instead of being lead by FOMO (*fear of missing out)

It’s important to be in organisations so the industry doesn’t break down (that’s why we are all members of RACQ) but you’ll only get out of it what you try to get out of it (who uses all the RACQ discounts and gets the maximum out of their membership?)

There is a system in place. STOs, RTOs, LTOs and other groups. Everyone has a role to play – but know what that role is and how to plug into what the other groups do. Dovetail and leverage up and down the hierarchy. Be clear who is responsible for doing what. Duplication is when things get confused. See where you can add value. 

For example, there are a lot of drive route groups cannibalising each other. Get inside the head of the consumer and don’t confuse the consumer! A good example is Drive Inland Qld – first the consumer gets the idea of driving inland, then they choose the route.

With many of these groups, loads of focus goes into getting members and securing funding and not enough focus goes into getting the job done (attracting visitors).


..and then there's politics

How politics works: tourism is not seen as a viable professional industry in the west. 
Tourism is not a single lump sum earner for a single organisation. It’s made up of lots of small businesses – unlike mining. The local government and the community doesn’t get a huge windfall from tourism, but everyone gets a little bit more in their pockets. 

The small tourism businesses don’t come together to lobby politicians. TEQ tries to talk about total jobs, GDP, taxes etc but politicians don’t get their heads around it. There isn’t a mass of us going to state government saying how great we are and what we need. There are little people going to them. QTIC is the voice of tourism who represent us to the state.

We need to educate our councils so they understand tourism and how to build a robust and sustainable industry. It cannot be a ‘on/off’ industry when other primary industries are not performing!


We've written another article on the presentation by the Rural Tourism Forum host, the Institute for Resilient Regions, that specifically talks about practical things rural communities can do to increase tourism

What are your thoughts? We would love to hear.

Linda TillmanComment