By Michael Giles

WE HAVEN’T seen the latest figures, but purely from what you see around the place, tourism is absolutely booming in Bass Coast and South Gippsland with visitor numbers appearing to be well up right across the board.
And it’s not just the visitors.
Locals too seem highly engaged and activated in participating in their own local events, as we have seen in recent weeks at Meeniyan’s Garlic Festival and also at Mirboo North’s Italian Festa – both reporting record response.
But, even discounting the impact of the Superbikes at the Island, visitor numbers were at crazy levels again last weekend, with Wilsons Promontory in particular absolutely bulging with people on the beaches and out around the walking trails.
But are we doing enough to capitalize on the growth and its job and income potential? Many would say no.
Two of our key leadership and lobbying groups, the Bass Coast Shire Council and South Gippsland Shire Council, are at various stages of readiness with their strategy planning and lobbying but have they really grasped the incredible potential, and possible negative impacts, of this dramatic upswing in interest in our area, coming mainly from the Melbourne sprawl?
Certainly, in South Gippsland’s case councillors continue to be distracted by infighting over budget, rates, CEO and personal agendas and ambitions to the point where they could easily implode this Wednesday.
Two flashpoints at Wednesday’s council meeting could be the proposal to spend $100,000 on upgrading the Walkerville Retarding Basin, to which the family of Cr Jeremy Rich has exclusive water rights, and a final decision on the future of the CEO Tim Tamlin.
These should not be the issues upmost in our civic leaders’ minds.
However, while the council is fiddling, they’re ignoring the burning potential of tourism, including local engagement.
Such projects as the extension of the Great Southern Rail Trail in South Gippsland and the development of aquatic centre facilities in Bass Coast are not getting the attention they deserve from either the councillors or the government.
And we should also be driving new visitor generators such as trail-bike and pathway developments harder, as well as out-of-season events and up-skilling the tourism workforce.
Bass Coast has its ‘Phillip Island San Remo Visitor Economy Strategy 2035 Growing Tourism’ and a range of other documents and initiatives but its all heavily focused on the Island.
It’s time our two councils got together to raise the bar on tourism, in keeping with the quantum leap forward we are seeing in demand and the publication of a new Destination Gippsland strategy in June this year could be the time to do it.
But don’t wait. The time to act on increasing jobs and boosting income to small business by developing our tourist infrastructure, while addressing the adverse impacts, is now.