THE Korumburra Visitor Information Centre at Coal Creek will close in little more than a month’s time, on July 31, 2017, according to a recommendation to go before next Wednesday’s South Gippsland Shire Council meeting.
The recommendation, only published on the shire’s website on Thursday this week, June 22, has left the Korumburra Business Association (KBA) and Korumburra Roundtable, the town’s two peak bodies, scrambling for support and votes among councillors in the hope of heading off the threat at the 11th hour.
Unfortunately, it’s the opinion of one of the riding councillors that there’s already majority support on the council to close Korumburra.
That view, of course, is still to be tested by a vote at next Wednesday’s meeting.
To make matters worse, the Foster community took the opportunity of a public presentation session last Wednesday to unload on the Korumburra visitors’ centre as a viable option, compared to their own centre which isn’t recommended for closure.
Unaware that the shire was putting up the recommendation to close Korumburra, neither the KBA nor the Roundtable had the opportunity to present at the same public presentation session.
The shire’s acting CEO Bryan Sword believes the Korumburra community has had sufficient opportunity.
Not only has there been a lengthy consultation process, he says, fielding 800 views about what should happen with the shire’s tourism promotion effort, he attended last Thursday’s Roundtable meeting to brief community leaders in the town.
And he rejected any suggestion the shire was being sneaky in adding the visitor information centre report and recommendation, to close Korumburra, well after the deadline for the publication of the council’s meeting agenda.
KBA “upset”, “devastated”
President of KBA, Noelene Cosson is devastated.
“We are extremely upset about it, devastated,” Mrs Cosson said today.
“We’re extremely surprised that this is the option they have chosen to go with.
“They don’t have a good enough digital presence to be closing any of the centres at this stage.
“If you go to the council website it’s very hard to navigate through to anything about Prom Country Tourism. It barely gets a mention.
“You can’t find information about what to see in Prom Country.
“Prom Country Regional Tourism is doing a good job but they need a lot more support from the shire. We have partnered up with them because we feel there is a lot to be gained from the towns joining with them but they need time to get the other town’s on board and for the shire to have a better online and promotional strategy before they think of closing the centres.
“It’s really premature to be putting up this recommendation before you have something in its place.
“We’ll be writing to the councillors asking them not to vote for this but it really is quite sudden.”
Ms Cosson said she didn’t know that the Foster delegation had made any negative comments about the Korumburra Information Centre and would reserve her comments for the time being.
The fact though, is Foster did dump on Korumburra.
At last week’s public presentation session, one of the three members of a Foster delegation, a local tourist operator Linda Giddy, quoted visitation statistics for the two centres to support the option of retaining Foster.
“There are 12,000 a year to Foster and I’m sorry to say that’s twice as much as Korumburra.”
Figures included in the shire report note that 12,421 people attended the Foster centre in 2015/16, as compared with 7161 at Korumburra’s visitors centre.
This is “reasonably consistent with the 2014/15 financial year, during which Foster received 13,107 visitors and Korumburra 6,110”.
The report also notes that it costs $325,334 annually to operate the South Gippsland Shire’s two accredited visitor information centres at Foster and Coal Creek in Korumburra, which according to Cr Andrew McEwen, makes up the lion’s share of the shire’s tourism promotion budget.
However, unlike the shire’s acting CEO Bryan Sword, who has accepted responsibility for the “officer’s recommendation” to close Korumburra, Cr McEwen says the move is “back to front”.
“The problem is that we are spending 90% of our tourism budget on 2% of the visitors who go through the centres,” Cr McEwen conceded.
“But you can’t be dumping the centres, any centre, until you have a proper digital strategy in place first. It’s premature to be making this decision now.
“Hi-tech is high-touch in tourism. You can’t close the centres until you have the online strategy in place, and also the trained volunteers that Cr Edwards is talking about in place.”
And Cr McEwen said it wasn’t just a numbers game between Foster and Korumburra, with a growing number of people visiting the area from Meeniyan to the west.
“There are 500,000 who go to the Prom each year but we get 1.2 million to the shire, so it’s not just about the Prom.”
He said the shire would be dropping the ball on tourism if they closed any of the centres before they had an alternative strategy in place.
Here’s the “officer’s recommendation to go before council:
“That Council: Close the Korumburra Visitor Information Centre by 31 July 2017 and continue to operate an accredited Visitor Information Centre at Foster. Allocate $100k to develop a digital tourism strategy which targets service and growth of South Gippsland visitor economy. Receive a future report which considers and adopts the digital tourism strategy.”
What’s your opinion? Please add your comment on our Sentinel-Times’ Facebook page.
Photo top: A delegation from Foster was “sorry to say” that Foster’s VIC attracted almost twice as many visitors as Korumburra.