Good news for regional New South Wales destinations with the government investing $43 million over four years to boost business, including meetings.

Regional Tourism Offices, or RTOs, will be no more under the new strategy being spearheaded by Destination NSW.

In their place will be what are being called Destination Networks, with just six rather than the 11 RTOs that currently exist.

New DNs under the plan include:

  • Destination Riverina Murray
  • Destination Southern NSW (including the Snowy Mountains and Far South Coast)
  • Destination North Coast (from the Mid-Coast to Tweed Heads including Lord Howe Island)
  • Destination Country and Outback NSW
  • Destination Sydney Surrounds North (Blue Mountains, Central Coast and Hunter)
  • Destination Sydney Surrounds South (Southern Highlands, Wollongong and Shoalhaven)

Regional conferencing unit

Anybody who has organised meetings in regional NSW in the past have probably had little to do with the old RTOs.

The exciting news for planners under this latest initiative is creation of a dedicated regional conference unit within Destination NSW.

A spokesperson from the NSW Minster for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayers’ office told micenet there will be three key staff working in the unit with plans to have it operational by the end of 2016.

A website portal showcasing NSW regional conferencing options will be up and running before the end of the first quarter of 2017.

“Components of the website will likely contain information on meeting infrastructure, suggested itineraries for accompanying persons programs, also requests for proposal templates, destination information, and case studies [of events held in regional NSW] as they come to hand,” the spokesperson said.

A focus of the Regional NSW Conferencing Unit will also be developing a client database of associations and corporations with a propensity to meet in regional NSW, improve research on regional business conferences and their benefits to local communities, and work with Business Events Sydney to grow visitation to the regions.

Also under the strategy is expansion of the Regional Flagship Events Program, with three sub-sections:

  1. Incubator Program – to support new events in regional destinations that meet set criteria
  2. Flagship Program – to provide marketing support to events that have been running for at least two years
  3. Development Program – to support events that have completed the Flagship Program but have a strategic plan for further visitor development

Grants will be available within each section (grants of up to $20,000 in the Incubator Program, grants to support marketing activities in the Flagship Program, and one-off grants of up to $50,000 per Flagship Event to support key event development initiatives).

Industry support

Feedback about the new focus being taken by Destination NSW has been positive.

Tourism Accommodation Australia CEO, Carol Giuseppi, said it was a positive step for hoteliers and tourism operators in regional NSW.

“NSW has an abundance of rich tourism attractions and quality hotels, and we believe that with greater promotion and support these destinations can attract more major conferences, which have a significant multiplier effect for the wider regional economy,” she said.

“Regional visitor nights account for 46 per cent of all NSW visitor nights and are therefore an essential contributor to the success of the overall NSW visitor economy.”

Tourism & Transport Forum Australia has also backed the move, with its CEO, Margy Osmond, saying regional and rural NSW attracts more than double the domestic overnight visitors than Sydney – 19.5 million visitors to regional NSW in 2015 compared to 9.3 million to Sydney in the same period.

“NSW is more than just Sydney – it is a state of exciting and diverse experiences that visitors, particularly international visitors, are increasingly craving and we need to be getting the message out on what regional and rural NSW has to offer,” she said.

General manager of Hunter Valley Wine Tourism Association (HVWTA), Jo Thomas, is supportive of the new Destination Networks initiative.

As an organisation primarily funded by members, with some assistance from local council and Business Events Sydney, the HVWTA’s role will not change under the new strategy.

She is however, looking forward to greater support, particularly because Tourism Hunter has been “in dormancy” for some time.

“We will still be doing our own campaigns, events and marketing initiatives to drive consumers to the Hunter Valley,” Ms Thomas said.

“What I think we’ll get is a lot more support from the new Regional Destination Network generally. I do believe that the new conferencing unit within Destination NSW will also assist us in capturing more business events for the Hunter.”

Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, Stuart Ayres, says the new networks will work closely with local government, tourism organisations and operators, as well as collaborate on campaigns with Destination NSW and the new Destination NSW regional division.

“The networks will improve industry engagement and better development of visitor experiences and products. Destination NSW is the state’s expert body in tourism campaigns, marketing and programs and their assistance in building the new regional networks will make a positive difference,” he said.

“By investing around $10 million a year in support of the new regional initiatives we aim to bolster our efforts in attracting visitors to regional and rural NSW.

“The NSW Government has a goal of doubling overnight visitor expenditure by 2020, and we know that regional tourism is an important driver in meeting this target.”

Deputy Premier Troy Grant said establishing new Destination Networks will create more jobs in tourism, with a positive flow-on for regional economies.