3 critical questions regional Councils need to ask about tourism

Most regional Councils don’t need another strategic planning process to grow tourism!

They need a supportive process that focuses on pragmatic results, ensuring that time, energy and ratepayers’ investments are not wasted.

There has been a focus on what has to be done, ultimately to the detriment of why and how.

Reliance on consultants to provide only strategic plans puts the future of tourism at the local government level (and for regional communities and economies) in a vulnerable position.

Regional councils need to decrease the risks associated with tourism projects and develop the talent and skills of their local people - this is essential to positive, long-term change.

Linda Tillman of regional tourism consultancy Tilma Group in regional Queensland and Ali Uren of learning and development service Kiikstart in regional South Australia share the same passion points about regional tourism, particularly that:

Local governments in regional Australia need to take a proactive approach to tourism, with a focus on increased efficiency and stronger outcomes, and less resource wastage.

Linda and Ali, experts in regional tourism, community development, and learning and development, help determine and activate priorities for regional councils who want to realise their full potential for future success.

Linda Tillman of Tilma Group

Linda Tillman of Tilma Group

Ali Uren of Kiikstart

Ali Uren of Kiikstart

Over a series of three blogs we will be exploring approaches to three key questions that are impacting local governments across regional Australia:

What is the role of local government in a modern and changing tourism industry?

Are we a destination or do we have the ability to become one?

Do we have the capacity, commitment and resources to realise our human potential?

We begin with the first of these questions. Be sure to add your comments and thoughts at the end!

What is the role of local government in a modern and changing tourism industry?

Councils in regional and rural Australia are well-positioned for tourism growth.

Tourism plays a significant part in Australia’s economy, contributing 3.1% to GDP and 5.2% to employment in 2017/18, according to Tourism Research Australia. In 2017/18, expenditure by domestic and international tourists was nearly $143 billion. For every dollar spent by tourists, 43 cents went to regional areas ($61.5 billion), making tourism vital to many of Australia’s regional communities.

Consistent investment into tourism growth can counteract the cyclical lows of major industries such as agriculture and mining.

However, many regional Councils do not understand their role in the tourism industry and how to successfully develop a tourism industry that drives results.

The Australian tourism industry includes national, state, regional and local tourism organisations; tourism industry associations such as Accommodation Association of Australia, Business Events Council of Australia, and Caravan Industry Association of Australia; Austrade; chambers of commerce and progress associations; tourism and support businesses; festival and event committees, educators, and many more contributors.

With so many industry bodies and levels of government agencies in the tourism industry, it’s no wonder councils are unsure of their role:

Austrade - Responsible for tourism policy. Works with industry to identify and address impediments to growth and maximise yield.

Tourism Australia - Responsible for international tourism marketing.

State tourism organisations (STOs) - Support the development and marketing of tourism destinations and experiences within their state.

Regional tourism organisations (RTOs) (called Destination Networks in NSW) - Facilitate visitor economy growth through representing and co-ordinating the region’s tourism industry, supporting capacity-building, and through marketing. (Destination Networks do not market their regions.)

Local tourism organisations - Strengthen local tourism businesses by liaising with regional tourism organisations and state bodies on behalf of operators, and through collaborative projects.

State tourism industry associations - Represent the interests of the state’s tourism and hospitality industry, driving sustainable business and product development, stimulating business attraction and investment, developing workforce skills and supporting tourism jobs and business

Industry associations such as Wine Australia, peak bodies such as Australian Regional Tourism, and destination associations such as The Outback Way and Adventure Way - Represent their members’ interests.

Tourism operators - Provide tourism experiences and products to tourists.

Educators - Support tourism operators by providing knowledge on best practice in running a tourism business.

With all of these layers to our industry, what is the role of Local Government in building the tourism offering across its region?

Are there key roles that a council should be focused on to a greater degree, and others that are a waste of resources?

We believe that councils need to understand and appreciate the many industry bodies and agencies that exist, and create strategic partnerships where relevant, but critically, to clearly define the gaps and therefore roles that they will play in realising the full potential of their local tourism industry.

It is vitally important that councils’ own ‘backyards’ are in order before they can leverage the benefits offered by industry bodies or agencies.

Recommended solution:


Undertake an audit and gaps analysis of the tourism industry in your region and state to help define who is doing what and what gaps in responsibility exist.

When undertaking this ensure that you consider the four key pillars of the industry:

Pillars of the tourism industry.png

It is not efficient to consider just one of these pillars in isolation; it is the combination and integration of these pillars that ensures success.

By undertaking this audit your organisation will have greater insight into the untapped regional opportunities that can bring the greatest value to all parties.


Learning & Development

This includes training and motivation in areas such as customer service, experience development, digital and event marketing, packaging and bundling, leveraging events, and tourism trends. In regional and rural destinations, community development is as critical as industry capacity-building as everyone plays a role in providing quality visitor experiences. This development ensures the industry and the community are equipped to meet the needs of visitors when they are in the region.

It is also key that we are delivering real talent in the skills of the future, including creative and critical thinking as well as problem-solving regional skill gaps and threats.

To build a future and forward-thinking local government tourism offering requires embracing risk as a necessary step in building high value and innovative tourism offerings.

Product and Experience Development

To increase visitor spend, a region must have attractive, quality, authentically-local products and experiences that visitors can spend money on. It is important to ensure that the product and experience offering in a region satisfies the needs and wants of target markets (based on market research). Without this, destination marketing will be ineffective.

This requires a new approach to industry development across regional Australia that shifts its gaze beyond social media alone. To remain relevant in a competitive world, operators must lift the bar in how they do business. What happens behind the scenes from an operational perspective ultimately impacts the visible end-to-end experience delivery.

Destination Brand & Marketing

A destination brand is  the sum of the experiences a place offers, plus the stories that people tell and hear about those experiences, from the initial Google search to the end of their stay. It is the value visitors get from the destination, functionally, emotionally and socially. 

Local government must build a strong regional brand that is underpinned by distinctive high-quality operator brands; its future economic development and prosperity will depend on it.

Destination marketing is the activity that activates the brand, but it does not refer only to paid promotional campaigns. Marketing includes planning, partnerships, packaging, service delivery, the physical evidence of intangible services, distribution, the characteristics of products offered, and price strategies.

Collaboration and industry buy-in are critical to the success of a destination brand which should define the experiences available and the unique selling proposition (USP) of the region.

Visitor Servicing

Visitor servicing refers to ensuring visitors have a quality experience during every point of contact with the destination, from researching their holiday through to after their visit. 

The aim of delivering successful visitor services is to increase visitors’ length of stay or spend in a region. It requires understanding what visitors want and need, and providing appropriate information and resources that encourage and support their experience. 

In a changing and modern world it is also about being both a community and commercial hub that is able to showcase the best of the region through retail, in-house events and digital offerings.

Visitor information centres are only one of many information touch points. Travellers access social media, peer review sites, online travel agents, destination websites, and mobile apps for information when they want it.

Visitors research different topics and types of information at the different stages of their journey. Information should to be filtered and provided when needed rather than all at once.

Everyone in the region has a role to play in providing quality visitor services, including businesses such as petrol stations and supermarkets. 

What do you think?

Have you already undertaken an audit of your region’s tourism industry? If so, what learnings came out of your audit?

Does your Council know its role clearly, or are there gaps or duplications in your region’s tourism industry?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.

Linda TillmanComment