More major events may help grow the state economy but reduced recurrent funding only adds to the challenge. Russell Quinn reports.
THE main driver of Tourism Western Australia’s recently announced major restructure, according to its chairman, Kate Lamont, is to refocus the agency on core functions to deliver greater tourism growth.
“Tourism WA has been trying to do too many things in too many places,” Ms Lamont says.
“We need to focus on fewer but bigger things with more impact on tourism growth.”
One of the three ‘bigger things to focus on’ was developing, attracting and promoting major events for the state (along with marketing the state, and developing significant tourism infrastructure and projects), which Ms Lamont says is ambitiously aimed at doubling the current annual contribution tourism makes to the state’s economy, from an estimated $7 billion to $14 billion, by the year 2020.
But according to the May state budget, which outlined the restructure (including significant staff reductions and regional and international office closures), the level of recurrent funding for events in WA will fall by more than $3.5 million in 2011-12 and by a further $6.2 million the next year to about $14.5 million from its current level of $23.9 million.
There has been a mixed reaction to the planned reduction in the level of funding for events, as there has for Tourism WA’s latest $5.8 million branding and marketing campaign (Experience Extraordinary and the Extraordinary Taxi Ride).
Tourism Council WA chief executive Graham Moss says there are concerns over the significant reduction in funding for TWA, particularly in event tourism in the forward estimates from 2012-13.
“Event tourism, whether they are sporting, cultural or business events play a significant role in attracting tourists to WA and showcasing WA to the rest of the world,” Mr Moss told Business Class. “TWA as part of its refocus would be developing a new major events strategy and I urge the state government to provide sufficient funding to support this strategy.”
The leadership of the Perth Convention Bureau, the body responsible for securing business events for WA since 1972, welcomed the flow-on effects from the restructure.
PCB chairman and former state tourism minister Ian Laurance appreciated the agency’s continued focus on attracting major events, and in particular business events to the state.
PCB managing director Christine McLean says the ongoing commitment to the PCB’s efforts in marketing the destination for business events ensures a valuable economic contribution for WA in the future following a record year in 2010.
Australian Hotels Association WA chief executive Bradley Woods questioned the ability of the agency to produce a strong events calendar for the state in light of a reduced events budget.
“The AHA welcomed the TWA board commitment that a new major events strategy will be developed to deliver a world-class, annual major events calendar,” Mr Woods says.
“But we were seeking detail from TWA on how this would be achieved when the events budget was to be cut by $3.5 million in 2011 then by a further $6 million in 2012 after event operation expenses fell from $18.9 million in 2005 to $13.4 million in 2009.”
Opposition tourism spokesperson Ljiljanna Ravlich says the reduction in events funding doesn’t make sense, leaving the embattled tourism industry in a parlous state. She says there is clearly no commitment to events.
“You can’t just rely on a taxi driver driving round the countryside to make it all happen,” Ms Ravlich says.
“Surely there should have been an increase in the events budget to give the sector the confidence it needs that these events will be delivered and with them, hopefully, increases in hotel bookings and hotel room rates, increases in people eating in our restaurants and driving in our taxis and generally a net benefit to the small business sector which underpins the tourism industry.”
The head of TWA’s events division Eventscorp, executive director David van Ooran, remains confident that the agency will continue to secure supplementary funding from the state government despite the number of employees within the events division falling as part of the restructure.
“The decrease in the number of team members will have no impact in identifying and securing events that are suitable for the state,” Mr van Ooran says.
Mr Moss was pushing for recurrent funding to increase suggesting that “going cap in hand” to the government may be challenging, while Ms Lamont admitts that WA is way behind the other states.
“Our challenge is to get our recurrent amount up and it’s the big focus,” she told a recent Tourism Council breakfast.
“And I think it’s a ‘no brainer’ but the bottom line is we have to secure the funding.
“One step at a time: this year the budget was about getting the restructure sorted, next year the budget is about getting a big lift specifically in events funding.”
But what does this mean for securing events in WA considering the number of events that have already dropped off the annual events calendar in coming years?
Ms Ravlich expressed concern over the economic loss to the state from key events such as Red Bull Air Race ($12 million, according to the state government’s 2009 Estimates and Financial operations committee).
Already the Johnnie Walker Classic ($15.5 million) and the Australian Surf Lifesaving Championships ($24 million) have left the state.
However, the ISAF 2011 Sailing World Championships are expected to return $40 million, while Mr van Ooran highlights events such as Australasian Safari ($2.2 million) and Ironman WA ($6.3 million), which have been secured until 2012 and 2014 respectively.