Shire threatens closure of Korumburra info centre

THE shire is threatening to close the Korumburra Visitor Information Centre by July 31 this year.
Its intentions were revealed in an 11th hour inclusion to the agenda for this Wednesday’s South Gippsland Shire Council meeting, featuring the following recommendation:
That Council: 1. Close the Korumburra Visitor Information Centre (VIC) by 31 July 2017 and continue to operate an accredited Visitor Information Centre at Foster. 2. Allocate $100k to develop a digital tourism strategy which targets service and growth of South Gippsland visitor economy. 3. Receive a future report which considers and adopts the digital tourism strategy.
The recommendation comes at the end of a process, started in February 2016, to review the shire’s visitor information services, and would reportedly save the shire $100,000 annually or $1.5 million over the next 10 years.
But it’s a move that the community of Korumburra did not see coming.
If they did, like the Foster community, they would have made a submission in support of their VIC at last week’s public presentation session.
In a media statement this week, the Korumburra Business Association says it is both “devastated and extremely surprised” at the proposal going to next week’s council meeting, to close the Korumburra VIC and they’ve mounted an aggressive lobbying campaign to stop a majority of councillors voting for it.
“We strongly believe that South Gippsland cannot afford to close an information centre before they have adequate digital presence available,” said KBA President Noelene Cosson.
“The proposal states that they will put the $100,000 saving toward a digital strategy but it will be a lengthy process to develop the strategy and this is before it is even acted upon,” Mrs Cosson said.
“The overwhelming feedback from the extensive consultation process was to keep both the Korumburra and Foster information centres open. It really does make you wonder what the worth of a consultation process is. Is it just to tick a box?”
Mrs Cosson said a tourism branding review conducted last year, indicated that there were “deep concerns with the Prom Country branding within the South Gippsland Shire”.
She said ‘Prom Country’ needs to be owned and promoted as a priority for tourism relating to South Gippsland.
“The shire website has no mention of Prom Country on the front page. It has a section relating to visitors at the bottom of the page and still does not make any connection to Prom Country until you take the Visitor Information Centre link. Are we Prom Country or not?
“The shire is not displaying confidence in Prom Country Regional Tourism but they are prepared to close an information centre before they rectify this problem,” said Mrs Cosson.
“The shire only allocates PCRT funding to match their membership base. This is not injecting confidence into the brand and causing PCRT the need to spend a vast amount of their time attracting members when they should be concentrating on promoting the region.
“Our business association have taken a great interest in tourism in the past 12 months and followed this review with great interest. We have partnered with Prom Country Regional Tourism to promote Korumburra which has great potential but for it to have an impact on South Gippsland, they need more time to get other towns on board.
“Are we serious about promoting the area or half-hearted about it? People can Google all sorts of things but they are not going to find all that South Gippsland has to offer with the current digital presence.
“We urge all councillors to vote against this proposal until a better partnership with PCRT is established with the shire and all towns within the shire. This can be achieved in the next few years but it is way too premature at present to close our information centre,” Mrs Cosson said.
The views have been echoed by the Korumburra Roundtable which has also been shocked and surprised by the recommendation.
“The shire needs a properly funded plan for the development of tourism in the shire. Making a decision to close the visitor information centre at Korumburra before you’ve got alternatives in place isn’t a plan,” said Roundtable vice president Rob Cosson.

One vote against
The KBA and Korumburra Roundtable can at least count on the vote of Strzelecki Ward Councillor Andrew McEwen.
“The proposed closure of Korumburra Tourism Visitor Information Centre is highly problematic. Whatever the merits in the longer term of digital promotion for tourists, we do not have a functional system in place nor an alternative to the person-to-person approach with tourists. The consultation said keep both open (Foster and Korumburra) in the short run,” Cr McEwen said at the weekend.
“Only a third of tourists go to the Prom and the coast area. Now two thirds come to the villages of the Tarwin valley, the Strezlecki hills and Loch and Korumburra,” he said.
“As a Councillor I legally have to keep an open mind until the debate next Wednesday at Council but it would be difficult to see any real argument for closure. With the exception of the Children’s Hub, which is fantastic, investment in Korumburra by the shire has been few and far between.”
So that’s one vote. Korumburra needs five councillors to vote against that recommendation or to put another motion.
Korumburra’s problem is lack of foot traffic.
In the 2015/16, 12,421 people visited the Foster VIC and 7161 visited the Korumburra VIC. This is consistent with visitation numbers in the 2014/15 financial year, during which Foster received 13,107 visitors and Korumburra 6,110.
“Foster VIC provides a greater return on Council’s investment,” according to a report to this week’s council meeting.
“In the 2015/16 financial year the cost per visit (walk-in) at Korumburra was $22.71 and cost per visit (walk-in) at Foster was $13.01.”
However, this could be an argument to close both centres.
When Bass Coast Shire Council announced the closure of Wonthaggi’s accredited information centre in February 2016, it was attracting 20,000 walk-in visits annually at $9.22 per person.
They said this result was unsustainable despite attracting almost double Foster’s number.
At last week’s public presentation session, representatives of the Foster Community Association (John Holman), Foster Traders Association (John Davies) and Linda Giddy (BnB operator) indicated the shire would have a fight on its hands if it tried to close “an icon in our community” or downgrade the ‘Yellow i” accreditation of Foster’s VIC.
Ms Giddy even went so far as to draw attention to the disparity between Foster and Korumburra.
“There are 12,000 visitors a year to Foster and I’m sorry to say, that’s twice as much as Korumburra,” she said.
But acting shire CEO Brian Sword rejected any suggestion that Foster had received an advantage over Korumburra by being able to make a final pitch when the recommendation to close Korumburra was only published last Thursday.
He said the shire delayed including the visitor information services ‘Final Recommendation Report’ in the agenda until it could brief affected staff and volunteers at Korumburra.
He also took the opportunity to present details of the report and his recommendation to a meeting of the Korumburra Roundtable last Thursday night.
“Foster didn’t receive any special treatment or notification. They were aware of the process/timing due to previous council decisions and public meeting communications,” Mr Sword said.
“With respect to the recommendation, if no recommendation was given and Council resolved to cease the service, in my experience this would be much more inflammatory. I consider this to be the appropriate recommendation after completing the service review and considering consultation. As you are aware Council may amend, alter or completely change an officer’s recommendation.”
He said consultation had been extensive with more than 800 responses to the information services review.
The Korumburra Business Association has made application to address the council at its 10am briefing session this Wednesday, June 28, ahead of the council meeting at 2pm.

Keep Burra centre open they say

THE response on Facebook to the threatened closure of the Korumburra Visitor Information Centre has been running at 20:1 for the centre to be retained.
Here’s what some people had to say over the weekend:
• Karen Penrose: This is a terrible decision and not very tourist friendly. When you are on the road travelling around you don’t usually have unlimited access to maps and info on areas on the web.
• Burke Brandon: We really need the Korumburra visitors centre. If the visitor numbers are down, do something about it, like actually letting people know where it is!
• Robert Fisher: I feel it’s another backwards step in the region should the centre be closed. People look to these resources when visiting new places, regardless of social media.
• Doug Pell: Another pending decision based on dollars. Info centres are valuable, not only to the traveller but even to locals, and it’s a way for local businesses to push what they do best.
• Candace Hughes: What is the long term strategy of the Council for Korumburra? Apart from the proposed IGA relocation and subsequent library relocation, what other projects are being implemented to improve Korumburra? The town needs to be reinvigorated.
• Sean Taylor: This is a recommendation only by council staff, the councillors have a chance to vote on it at this week’s council meeting hopefully they will read it thoroughly and listen to what the community wants!
But not all agreed.
• Alicia Jones: Devastated? Pretty sure most people use Google or even the Facebook community group for answers.