Web_xnsuperbikes_4113GIPPSLAND’S $2.8 billion tourism sector has thrown its full weight behind the establishment of a car ferry service between Stony Point and Cowes as its number one ‘regional priority project with high tourism potential’. The controversial project is listed among four regional priorities in Destination Gippsland’s new strategic plan 2013-2018, along with the proposed rebuilding of the Penguin Parade Visitors Centre, which is now before the State Government for funding in stage one of Phillip Island Nature Parks’ 20-year plan for the Summerland Peninsula.

Other regional priorities include South Face Road at Mt Baw Baw and the establishment of a Coastal Wilderness Walk in Croajingolong National Park in East Gippsland. But development of Phillip Island’s and, to a lesser extent, South Gippsland’s tourism potential gets a big boost in the new tourism plan for Gippsland which includes the ‘Corner Inlet Development Projects’ (Port Welshpool Marina, Long Jetty and Rail Trail) as ‘local area priority projects’. And Destination Gippsland has the figures to back up its calls for funding support from government with domestic overnight stays up by more than 14 per cent in the past year to 5.7 million. The improvement in domestic visitor numbers more than made up for an 11.8 per cent drop in international travel to the Gippsland region with visitor numbers to the region up by 0.4 per cent in the year to 5.2 million.

But it was the ‘quality’ improvement in the figures collected by Data Insights which most pleased local tourism operators with nights spent in the region up by 7.4 per cent to nearly 6.1 million for the year to June 30, 2013. And the introduction of a car ferry service to the Island is seen as enhancing the Gippsland region’s potential to capture more overnight stays. Bass Coast CEO Allan Bawden has welcomed the support given to the Phillip Island projects by Destination Gippsland’s strategic plan. “We were aware of Destination Gippsland’s strategic plan and it’s good to know that they see it (the car ferry) as a major regional priority,” Mr Bawden said. “The last decision taken by council was to knock out the Cowes jetty as a ferry site and the location was the community’s main concern. “We’ve had a few things happen since then including a change of council and a new Premier but there’s the opportunity to look at it again as part of the Cowes Activity Centre Plan which council will be embarking on soon.

“There is the potential there to identify some alternative sites (for the car ferry arrival point) and for council to do its part and get the planning arrangements in place. “The State Government is on record as supporting the project and I imagine that would still be the case. “All the planning approvals are in place on the Mornington Peninsula side,” Mr Bawden said. As well as providing alternative access to the Island, Mr Bawden said the car ferry service would bridge a gap in the state’s tourism potential. “The Great Ocean Road is already heavily marketed and you’ve got the ferry to Sorrento where visitor attractions on the Mornington Peninsula are well established. When you take a look at the Melbourne-Sydney tourism route, a car ferry to Phillip Island is the missing link.”

Other initiatives
Other key initiatives in the plan include:
• The development of a strong regional events calendar with at least eight major events with the potential to attract upwards of 30 per cent of its attendees from outside the region.
• The development of ‘best of’ visitor packages that can be purchased by domestic and international visitors (including natural based, adventure activities, food, arts and culture.
• Delivering a ‘value of tourism’ message to the wider Gippsland community.
• Developing local initiatives, including a service excellence pilot, which engage local business and community leaders in improving the overall experience for visitors and the capacity for the destination to deliver.
• Creating a new Gippsland tourism leadership program.
• Looking at the best methods of information delivery.
• Focusing on digital technology and consumer channels that increase the Gippsland accommodation sector’s booking capability.
• Preparing a new international tourism marketing plan

Growth potential
The Gippsland Visitor Economy generates an estimated $2.8 billion in direct and indirect expenditure per annum. It creates approximately 15,000 jobs from over 3000 businesses that derive the majority of their income from visitors. These businesses cover accommodation, tours and transport, food, hospitality, retail and attractions. Gippsland attracts a total of 10.8 million visitors each year. This includes 5.4 million day trippers and 5.4 million overnight visitors. These figures include an estimated 2.7 million visitors staying in holiday homes and 348,000 with friends and relatives which previously haven’t been recorded. Since 2008 visitation to Gippsland has increased by 10.1 percent predominantly on the strength of the growing daytrip market.

The following five tourism objectives will guide the region’s strategic priorities and goals:
• To increase overnight visitation – from 5.4 million to a target level of 5.7 million overnight visitors per annum
• To increase visitor expenditure – from $2.8 billion to a target level of $3 billion in direct and indirect expenditure per annum
• To increase length of stay – from 2.8 days to a target level of 2.9 days per visitor
• To increase dispersal (geographical and seasonal)
• To increase visitor satisfaction

Gippsland has experienced welcome growth in overnight visitation in the past year and the highest visitor and total nights numbers in five years.