By Kirra Grimes

SOUTH Gippsland and Bass Coast businesses are set to benefit from a new state government focus on regional tourism, but it’s up to them to maximise the opportunities opening up.
That was the message of the Gippsland Tourism Forum held in Korumburra recently, which included the launch of the first Gippsland Destination Management Plan.
With a new focus on marketing the ‘Gippsland’ brand, and a range of strategic goals for the next 10 years, local and state politicians in attendance described the plan as a “roadmap” for stakeholders including business operators, local councils, and state government that would go hand in hand with a “proper regional tourism strategy” currently being worked on in state parliament by means of the Regional Tourism Review launched in March 2019.
State MP Jane Garrett and South Gippsland Shire Council Administrator (Chair) Julie Eisenbise agreed Gippsland had been the “poor cousin” of areas like Great Ocean Road, Bendigo and Ballarat, in terms of being marketed as a destination to urban, interstate, and overseas visitors.
The Gippsland Destination Management Plan would see the “jewel” that is Gippsland emerge, by assisting local and state government in reducing red tape; and telling them what planning changes need to be made to make it easier for developments of all sizes, and where they need to be “focusing [their] energies,” Ms Garrett said.
Ms Eisenbise said the plan would inform the economic development strategies, that South Gippsland’s Shire Council’s administrators are currently “building”.
But she added that the private sector needed to lead the way.
“You’ve got to have the businesses with their enthusiasm and their ability to draw money,” she said.
“But the government takes a really important role in bringing all the stakeholders together. And local government can work with the state government to see what sort of infrastructure may be needed to assist.”

Industry leads the way
Local tourism industry representatives at the forum agreed the region needed a more cohesive approach to marketing and a better understanding of the value of tourism.
Marty Thomas, whom many locals credit with the ‘renaissance’ of Meeniyan with the founding of his restaurant Moo’s, said all hospitality businesses should see themselves as tourism “ambassadors,” with visitors’ interactions with staff forming a memorable part of their experience of a region.
“It’s important to realise we’re all bigger than our own businesses,” Marty said. “We all need to promote the region if we want to share in the benefits of tourism.”
Angela Sgarbossa, who runs boutique accommodation at Neerim South, said Gippsland was an “untapped oasis” that needed a more “streamlined” tourism strategy.
“I get feedback from visitors all the time saying things like ‘we didn’t even know this place existed’.
“So, if we can get all the different bodies to work together and pool their resources on marketing an overall product, that will be a really good thing.”
Noel Fitzpatrick of The Truffle House at Jumbunna, which offer farm tours, truffle tastings and events, said locals in more traditional fields like dairy farming could look at tourism as a way to value-add to their existing income streams.
“If you grow something or do something interesting and you’re happy to bring people on to your farm, you can create a very meaningful, lucrative business, right where you live,” Noel said.
“People love to come out of the city for the day and just have a different experience, so if you’ve got a unique proposition to offer, opening up to tourism would definitely be something worth considering.”
Noel had great support from the South Gippsland Shire Council when he opened up his farm to visitors last year.
“Planning, health and tourism departments were all keen to support it. They made it very easy,” he said.