19/02/2016 - 06:00

Rottnest moving forward

19/02/2016 - 06:00


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Two articles in Business News (February 2016) may have left readers with a view the progress on Rottnest has stalled. This is far from the case.

Rottnest moving forward

Comments in two articles in Business News (February 2016) may have left readers with a view the progress on Rottnest has stalled. This is far from the case.

The articles (‘Island life leads to indesicion’, and ‘Rotto lags amid limbo’, www.businessnews.com.au/article/Rotto-lags-amid-limbo) in the February 15 edition of Business News suggest the island is ‘being stuck fast by political indecision’. Rottnest is, in fact, enjoying an unprecedented period of development and tourists are embracing change by voting with their feet – year-to-date visit numbers to Rottnest are up 17 per cent.

Political and public support for two important documents (1) The Rottnest Island Management Plan 2014-2019 and (2) Rottnest Island – A 20 Year Vision has provided the Rottnest Island Authority with the mandate to implement well-overdue change.

The management plan outlines philosophies and principles around heritage and conservation, island management and tourism infrastructure.

In the area of heritage and conservation, Rottnest has recently been awarded ‘silver’ status by international accreditation agency Earthcheck.

This is the first international accreditation of Rottnest’s focus on environmental management. (Gold status will follow after three consecutive years of silver status.)

In addition to this, Rottnest has recently been recognised as having the smallest carbon footprint of any tourist island operating in Australia.

In the past three years the island’s Nature Trail, The Wadjemup Walk Trail, and 28 kilometres of trails linking coast and heritage have been completed. This project has been greatly assisted by a $500,000 grant from BHP Billiton to the Rottnest Foundation – the largest-ever private donation to Rottnest.

More recently, a grant of $500,000 from Lotterywest to the foundation has been added to the RIA’s own expenditure of $1.1 million to enable the completion of works respecting the island’s Aboriginal burial ground.

In a joint submission with Hydro Tasmania, Rottnest has also received federal government funding to install a solar farm, boosting the renewable energy supply to 45 per cent of the island’s requirements.

Past indecision on Rottnest could perhaps more fairly be described as a reluctance to do anything that might upset Western Australia’s unique and special love for Rottnest. This love is not changing but is being replaced with an expectation that Rottnest can provide a more contemporary experience, so long as all steps are taken to protect the island’s environment and its unique, laid-back style.

The appetite for change has led to processes being put in place for new developments on Rottnest.

Most recently a heads of agreement has been signed with Hotel Rottnest for the development of a 400-seat conference/reception facility and new accommodation to be built on and to the south of the current site.

A tender to build the island’s first ‘glamping’ (upmarket camping) site has been awarded to a syndicate led by Rottnest Express, and the Karma Royal Group is now well progressed with plans for a luxury resort linking the lodge to Rottnest’s now fully redeveloped nine-hole all-season golf course.

Beyond these developments, of course, is the island’s much anticipated marina and hotel development. Following strong expressions of interest for this development, a formal tender process is now under way and will close during March.

The island’s management plan identifies further efficiencies and improved visitor experiences that may be achieved with the introduction of private enterprise to perform some functions previously undertaken by the authority.

An example of this is tours and transport, which has now been outsourced to two private enterprise operators after a tender process – Adams and Rottnest Express. Importantly, the outsourcing of this business meant all authority staff previously engaged in this business were

offered jobs by the new private enterprise service providers.

Following a similar process, work is now well progressed on a tender to outsource the island’s bike hire business to private enterprise, with a tender to run this business expected to go to market before the end of this financial year.

The question of managing the island’s utilities remains a complex one. It is quite clear that the authority’s resources are stretched both financially and from an expertise point of view in managing all utilities on Rottnest. Perhaps the answer here lies in the growing popularity of Rottnest, driving a change in thinking that was more relevant to a time when living in certain postcodes was a passport to holidaying on Rottnest.

Despite its limited resources, the island continues to invest in utility infrastructure, with a new wastewater treatment plant coming online in 2016. New desalination plants to relieve pressure on the island’s aquifers have been commissioned in recent years, and Rottnest’s first solar farm is now under construction.

The outsourcing of the management of the island’s utility infrastructure to Programmed Maintenance Services in 2015 has brought added efficiencies to the management of these resources. However, the savings and opportunity of engaging more closely with the state’s respective utility providers is something that continues to be explored.

Significant changes taking place on Rottnest have lifted the island’s profile and awareness. A renewed focus on event marketing is attracting a new and much broader visitor base to Rottnest, and once people come and ‘feel’ Rottnest, they are returning regularly.

Outside of the authority’s activities, Rottnest is now also benefiting from a rejuvenated business community. The formation of the Rottnest Island Chamber of Commerce in 2015 has helped bring the various businesses on the island together to work for the common good. The benefits of this across the board are seen in terms of improved visitor experiences.

On top of this, Rottnest continues to receive unprecedented international attention. Since the island’s favourite inhabitant, the quokka, was voted the world’s friendliest animal, social media interest in the quokka and in obtaining a ‘must have quokka selfie’ has generated a focus on Rottnest that money just can’t buy.

John Driscoll was appointed to the board of the Rottnest Island Authority in 2010 and became chairman in July 2012. Mr Driscoll is chairman and CEO of Marketforce. He is also on a number of not-for-profit boards.


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