Tourism body says removing funding “a kick in the teeth”

David Braithwaite

WELLINGTON Shire Council has delayed a decision on reducing funding to Central Gippsland Tourism.

A council officer recommended councillors reallocate $92,000 to council’s own “Middle of Everywhere” campaign following the end of the current memorandum of understanding between council and CGT at the end of March.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, councillors instead opted to lay the matter on the table, to be dealt with next year.

Under the motion recommended to council, it would have continued providing $5000 annually to CGT for administrative support.

The CGT board predominately consists of local people operating accommodation, hospitality or tourism-related businesses.

Council officers claimed CGT had not delivered on key points of the MoU.

The current MoU, signed in October last year, has three objectives: support visitor marketing outside Wellington Shire, promote industry development, and demonstrate sound governance and specific outputs proportionate to the significant funds.

Each year, council allocates $97,000 to CGT and $34,000 to Destination Gippsland, plus $30,000 as an additional payment to Destination Gippsland to support post-bushfire marketing.

In November, council launched a new marketing campaign, “The Middle of Everywhere”, funded through federal and state government grants in response to the 2019-20 bushfires, which affected visitor numbers to the shire.

The campaign is being managed by council, with the aim of raising the shire’s profile as a place to visit, stay, shop, work, invest and live.

It will also encourage Wellington Shire residents to “buy local”.

The campaign will use videos, town entry signage, app, website, events, banners, social media and media advertising.

Speaking to council before it delayed the funding decision, CGT executive director Ben Joske said the prospect of losing $92,000 felt like “a kick in the teeth”.

“We feel that we need the opportunity to counter how your staff is positioned the MoU and our deliverables on the MoU,” he said.

“We believe that you guys have been told that we haven’t actually ticked those boxes, but it is our view that we have.

“The ones that we haven’t, obviously in the year that we’ve all encountered, it’s been very, very difficult to achieve some deliverables based upon events, and access to trade shows and those sorts of things when they haven’t actually existed.

“We probably have delivered upon, I would say, at least 80 per cent of that MoU.”

Mr Joske said CGT had provided value for the amount of money council provided, working with local operators and business and tourism associations – an example being the “My Hidden Gem”

campaign, which was launched this week with the aim of attracting visitors from Melbourne.

“Being told yesterday that our funds would be cut off and to be diverted tonight would be a little bit underhanded,” he said.

Mayor Garry Stephens said laying the item on the table gave councillors some more time to discuss this issue and make a final decision.

“To suggest the recommendation came as a surprise to the committee is difficult to believe given the memorandum of understanding runs out in March, so they knew a decision about the future of the MoU was imminent,” he said.

“Council officers regularly attend committee meetings and report to councillors on their performance over the past four years.

“Council has contributed over $425,000 to the committee over four and half years.

“Councillors now need to use this time to consider whether it is a wise use of ratepayer’s money to fund this committee another $97,000 or whether this money would be better spent across all Wellington businesses, with a focus on tourism, that are recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.”