IF YOU can make even a modest improvement in the number of visitors to South Gippsland, you’ll get enormous bang for your buck. And that’s what the new South Gippsland Visitor Economy Strategy 2021-2031 – Taking the South Gippsland Shire visitor economy to new heights – is all about.

And there’s a list of actions that the shire council is charged with taking after the strategy was officially adopted at a meeting last month.

A key new focus of the plan, and one that’s expected to deliver a significant increase to the $114 million visitor economy is the extension, east and west, of the Great Southern Rail Trail.

“This Visitor Economy Strategy highlights what South Gippsland Shire Council aims to do to increase visitation and economic spend,” said shire CEO Kerryn Ellis.

“It focuses on what Council can do to attract regional investment and infrastructure and it details key themes for the future and is action specific.

“This is a functional working document we can use to make future tourism related decisions. But we know we need to be flexible and adapt to change. COVID-19 taught us how important it is to be adaptable. We need to keep kicking goals even when the goalposts are moving,” she said.

According to the Executive Summary:

“The strategy is designed to achieve South Gippsland Shire Council’s vision that the shire is a destination of choice for local and international visitors.

“With increased visitation, we can increase the contribution of the visitor economy across the region. Council wants to increase our current annual visitation of around 1.2 million people, which is currently worth around $114 million to our local economy.

“This strategy will enable tourism operators, food and beverage businesses, retail and accommodation providers to seize the opportunities that come from Australians redirecting their travel dollars to domestic travel.

“Better marketing the range of attractions and encouraging visitors to stay longer will allow South Gippsland to gain a bigger slice of the $32.5 billion tourism spend in the state.”

Council focused the strategy on actions built around six strategic themes. This, they said, will maximise the positive impact of the strategy in the most practical way. The six strategic themes are (with some of the proposed action):

  1. Increasing marketing and promotion
  • Develop a promotional website to attract visitors to South Gippsland.
  • Develop a Grand Ridge Road map and promote it as a key Gippsland touring route.
  • Develop and deliver a strategic and marketing plan for the Great Southern Rail Trail.
  • Coordinate a marketing campaign with a focus on villages and local eateries.
  • Develop a Shop South Gippsland campaign to encourage support for local retail businesses
  1. Supporting visitor economy infrastructure
  • Develop public art along the Great Southern Rail Trail.
  • Install wayfinding signage for the GSRT from key locations off the South Gippsland Highway and main arterial roads.
  • Identify and then seek funding opportunities to implement actions from the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Study.
  1. Diversifying and expanding products and experiences
  • Position Coal Creek as a key Cultural Tourism asset for South Gippsland.
  • Develop touring routes that promote the visitor experiences.
  1. Enhancing visitor servicing
  • Investigate the feasibility and cost of digital technology in key locations.
  • Continue the operation of the Visitor Information Centre in Foster.
  1. Building partnerships
  • Work with local business and community groups to promote opportunities for local operators.
  • Engage with local artists via Council’s Arts Development Officer.
  • Provide community groups interested in establishing free or low-cost camping with information and advice.
  1. Providing business development and support
  • Work with businesses to understand skills requirements and plan appropriately.

In summary:

“South Gippsland Shire is located 90 minutes south east of Melbourne on the edge of Melbourne’s eastern growth corridor, one of the fastest growing areas in Victoria. It is best known for its rolling green hills, spectacular coastline, traditional country towns and villages, and the world-famous Wilsons Promontory National Park.

“The Shire has a robust economy, closely linked to food production with both major agricultural and food manufacturing sectors. It is one of the most important dairy production areas in Australia with 10% of Victoria’s dairy farms.

“Its major towns are Leongatha, Korumburra, Mirboo North and Foster. Other towns include Nyora, Poowong, Loch, Bena, Kongwak, Tarwin Lower, Venus Bay, Koonwarra, Meeniyan, Dumbalk, Fish Creek, Yanakie, Sandy Point, Port Franklin, Toora, Welshpool and Port Welshpool.

“It is home to 30,000 people and supports over 11,000 jobs in 3700 businesses. The vast majority small businesses employ less than 20 staff.

“The Shire has an annual economic output of $3.8 billion and Gross Regional Product (GRP) of $1.85 billion. It has low unemployment and high productivity, with a GRP per worker of over $166,000.

“The South Gippsland Visitor Economy Strategy (2021—2031) will help Council develop and grow the visitor economy. The visitor economy is a valued sector of South Gippsland’s economy. We have developed this strategy alongside the Council’s Economic Development Strategy (2021—2031). The successful implementation of this strategy requires multistakeholder partnerships and collaborations. Only by working together can Council and the community create opportunities to benefit the whole region.”