INVERLOCH tourist operators are already starting to count the cost of the negative publicity surrounding the Bass Coast Shire Council’s ban on dogs at the town’s beaches, between 8am and 8pm.
The issue has received wide publicity in Gippsland and already there have been reports of dog-loving holidaymakers cancelling their holiday house bookings with local real estate agents.
As a result, local business operators will be making their feelings known, in no uncertain terms, when they attend this Wednesday night’s council meeting at Cowes where the “designation of dog areas” issue is scheduled to be reviewed.
But short of council committing ratepayers’ dollars to a positive campaign for Inverloch, to counter the bad PR the town has received at the worst possible time, the damage may have already been done.
The issue of the on-again, off-again ban on dogs and their owners accessing the beaches at Inverloch kicked up a gear on Sunday, December 1 when the day-long ban came into force.
As a result, a wave of doggie-driven concern hit the council prompting local councillor, Jordan Crugnale, to think better of her move to get council to extend its ban to 12 hours, instead of the recommended 10am-5pm and 8pm-7am ban that applies to all other beaches in the shire.
This full-day ban had not been previously been flagged by the shire, nor were its implications tested ahead of the council decision on October 16.
Interestingly enough, it was one of the final moves of the out-going Mayor, Cr Claire Le Serve, to use her casting vote to reject the shire officer’s recommendation and back Cr Crugnale’s revised motion.
She probably wishes now that she hadn’t.
Apparently without the endorsement of council, Cr Crugnale went on Gippsland ABC Radio last Thursday morning and ‘announced’ that the ban was “on hold”.
Cr Crugnale’s statement was embarrassingly contradicted, on the same radio program on Friday morning, by the Bass Coast Shire CEO, Allan Bawden, who said the ban was being enforced, if initially by education rather than infringement notice.
The media had an absolute field day with it, but the fallout is likely to be felt by local traders and tourist operators over the summer.
Inverloch Tourism Association President, Dom Brusamarello, is unhappy about the shire handling of the matter.
“We are going to be attending the council meeting at Cowes on Wednesday,” he said.
“Obviously we would be concerned about anything that would give visitors to Inverloch a reason to consider going somewhere else over the summer.
“Our concern is that the implications of what they have done might not have been fully thought through when they made their decision.”
Mr Brusamarello said the tourism group had been contacted by the organisers of the dog owners’ protest and were sympathetic about their concerns. He said they were also aware of disturbing feedback about holiday cancellations.
Initially reported by the Sentinel-Times, reflecting the concerns of local dog owners, particularly about the impractical nature of the 8am to 8pm ban, it was then picked up by Gippsland ABC Radio’s Mornings Presenter Celine Foenander, the Latrobe Valley Express and Win News.
The city media was also sniffing around about the story last Friday, but in an attempt to staunch the bleeding, the shire’s communications department reportedly stopped making comment.
On her program, Ms Foenander suggested that dog owners considering a holiday at Inverloch might have to think again after the shire introduced the ban.
She noted that she was a regular visitor to the beach at Inverloch but hadn’t recognised that dogs were a problem on the beach.
In a subsequent interview with a local spokesman for the Domestic Animal Advisory Committee, Ivan Hipworth, it was also reported that the ban was impacting local business.
“Some people simply won’t come if they can’t take their dogs on to the beach,” Mr Hipworth said.
“People won’t be prepared to pay the higher rentals they have to pay to come to Inverloch once they find out they can’t take their dogs for a walk on the beach.”
The Latrobe Valley Express splashed the story across its Friday morning edition, reporting that Inverloch accommodation provider, Shane Clements, said one of his clients had cancelled their holiday plans over the dog ban, which runs through to April 30 next year – well beyond Easter.
“People from the Latrobe Valley won’t be doing their day trips there either,” Mr Clements said.
“I’ll also be having an impact on restaurants,” he claimed.
The paper quoted the Bass Coast Shire’s economic development director Antoinette Mitchell who said the shire was aware that “some dog owners” were unhappy about the restrictions.
“Ultimately we have to understand that the issue is about the shared use of the beach with many people preferring to enjoy the beach without dogs.”