In a region where tourism makes up over 80% of the economy, one would expect the AGM of the leading local Tourism body to be well attended – especially in the current climate.
But not so. Only a small handful of tourism-related companies attended the AGM of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree at QT Resort last Tuesday. Ben Woodward, the Chairman, and Tara Bennett, the Executive Officer, would have been speaking to an almost empty room had it not been for the Douglas Shire Mayor, Julia Leu, the Chair of Tourism Tropical North Queensland, Wendy Morris, and a few of the staff and directors from TPDD.
Greater disappointment was to follow.
Douglas Shire tourism is on its knees. The ongoing attention – national and international – given to the Great Barrier Reef and the regular talk of crocodiles haven’t helped an economic tourism downturn that shows no signs of abating. This situation is exacerbated by the lacklustre leadership in key organisations and the Shire council.
After the appropriate acknowledgement of country and completion of the AGM’s legal formalities, Ben Woodward invited Tara Bennett to speak about the past 12 months and the future. The invitation to the AGM I expected was an opportunity to hear about a “new vision and a refreshed direction” in tourism and for TPDD.
Did TPDD deliver on its promise? No. Tara Bennett’s executive summary glossed over the decline in tourist numbers in the past 12 months and the serious challenges facing the Port Douglas and Daintree area only to present the unmeasurable. Nice words can’t conceal hard facts. And there is something incredibly disingenuous when the message – “It’s all ok” – flies in the face of the numbers. Not even weddings, the darling child of every tourism destination, could buck the downward trend. I wanted to interrupt and ask, “Tara, which bit is ok about the significant downturn in local tourism?”
It is of course encouraging that our area has received an award as one of the 100 most environmentally sustainable destinations in the world. But where is the strategy, where is the planning, where is the support to turn that award into increased tourist numbers and profitability for the tourism sector? Where is the thinking about using our green tick achievement as a winner for the local tourism industry? At the AGM, we heard no strategy, no plan, no thinking. So, what is the value of such an award if we cannot capitalise on it? Where is the urgency to build a plan around our recognised sustainability status?
Harbouring disappointment and frustration at a lack of vision and direction, I wondered about the usefulness of TPDD. Mr Woodward, I thought, this is in your court and you must act without delay or the tourism industry in our glorious Far North Queensland will go out backwards.
The next ‘Gloss-Over’ was on the decrease in traffic to the TPDD website. It is down 30% in the past 24 months, thus continuing the trend of recent years. More incredulous was blaming the decrease on an “OTA friend of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree” – TripAdvisor.
Scapegoats are to be expected and this one was to hide the reality that the continued decline in domestic visitors to the region can be put down to the fact that visitors to the Tourism Port Douglas Daintree website decreased.
Perhaps more confusing, however, is that, according to the graph on the right, domestic night visitation for 2016 has miraculously changed over the course of the year from ’17 to ’18 and the numbers below support this contradiction.
Putting that aside, ( we will come back to this later) one would seriously have to ask questions on how website visitor numbers have fallen when TPDD doubled its website spend to more than $60,000 in that same 12 month period? The only conclusion I can arrive at is that TPDD has failed to engage the right expertise. How can it spend such funds on a website that does not have any capacity for monetisation or reviews? To make matters worse, the platform (Adobe Catalyst) is approaching its end of life. The OTA websites are modern and forward-looking; they use the latest technologies; they attract customers, money and reviews. TPDD’s website does none of these things.
Someone needs to be held accountable for the reckless spend of the scarce tourism marketing dollars. But I suspect that won’t happen. In a conversation with one of the TPDD directors, Steve Molnar, at the conclusion of the AGM, it was evident that he was totally oblivious of this website disaster. The website will require a total rebuild in the next 12 months.
Tourism Port Douglas Daintree is a closed club. Closed to ideas, closed to criticism, closed to reform and closed to being a modern day tourism organisation. The Executive Officer, Tara Bennett, banged on about increased membership, but where were they? Did they not know that this very important event was being held, an event that should be a part of securing their future and showing that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel? No – it seems they couldn’t be bothered. Maybe they believe Tourism Port Douglas Daintree doesn’t know the difference between a bright light and a locomotive coming straight at them.
As I look back and reflect on the AGM, I marvel that no mention was made of how tourism businesses continue to struggle and fail. Silence about the job losses in the tourism sector. Not a word about the debilitating influence of the OTAs, despite the fact that this is being discussed nation-wide. Nothing about why our region is declining in tourism numbers and duration of stays in contrast to elsewhere in Queensland. How can TPDD be pleased with an increase in Facebook likes while watching the real-time decline of the industry it is supposed to be supporting?
It’s easy for Tourism Port Douglas Daintree to say their charter is “destination marketing”. However try destination marketing with just a $600,000 Income for a half billion dollar industry which has experienced zero growth between ’09/’10 and ’16/’17. Where overnight visitors only increased by 0.66% and visitor nights by 18%. Compare that to Tourism Australia overall where the increase was 35%. Tourism drives the Douglas Economy, which in real terms has declined by -36% since 2008 (taking account of CPI).
Even Douglas Shire mayor Julia Leu provided an insight to just how out of touch the council and its councillors are by claiming not to know of reports on the councils website that demonstrates a 30% decrease in the wealth of the region these last 10 years. See letter to Julia
The evening drew to a close. We had heard no vision and no refreshed direction. We also heard nothing that supported the opening words of Ben Woodward’s Chairman’s Report at the beginning of the AGM:
“As I approach the end of my first year as Chairman of Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, I’m pleased to look back at what has been another successful year for our region’s tourism industry.”
TPDD’s failures to lead, deliver and inspire leave only one serious option on the table for our local tourism industry: Douglas Tourism businesses need to unite and take the initiative. Douglas Tourism needs a growth-based business model. A model that is based around collective responsibility, and one that monetises the opportunities – including our new sustainability status – for the benefit of all in the shire. Not next year, not next month… now.
Discover Port Douglas
Glenn Smith attended the Tourism Port Douglas Daintree AGM as a guest.