[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] A [/dropcap]s Warrnambool restores the grass on the Civic Green after another whirlwind Fun4Kids festival, I can’t help but wonder when we will turn our attention to more permanent attractions for grown-ups.
As one local put it, “Warrnambool is great for kids and great for the elderly, but there is not a lot for people in the middle” – and she is spot on.
Most regional cities in Victoria are coming up with new ways to attract the cashed-up, time-poor, middle-aged, middle class who want to spend their dollars on unique experiences and personal indulgence, but Warrnambool persists with “big things” that lose money.
Two of our attractions – Fun4Kids and Flagstaff Hill – cost the Warrnambool City Council around $1 million a year to prop up. In a queer kind of logic, we continue to subsidise the cost of these attractions to ensure their survival, but still consider them successful and necessary.
It would be understandable if these attractions were just starting out and trying to find their feet, after all, every new concept needs time to establish itself. But Fun4Kids is in its 14th year – 14th! – and still doesn’t break even despite the valiant efforts of all those involved and how much fun there is to be had.
[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] A [/dropcap] report commissioned by the council last year was upbeat in its assessment of Fun4Kids. It found the event created direct expenditure of around $1.9 million and that this, in turn, stimulates even more economic activity which – based on a series of sums and guesstimates – brings the total benefit to an estimated $3.69 million.
These figures, however, are always hard to quantify – where does this $3.7 million, if it exists, actually go?
From the council report, it appears local accommodation is a big winner through filling more beds in winter, but other traders are less affected.
Of the 95 traders who responded to a council survey, 50 per cent said their turnover remained about the same for this time of year and only nine (10 per cent) said it was significantly higher.
Some may consider $450,000 a year a small price to pay for an injection of winter tourists, but if we add up the total cost over 14 years – around $6 million – you start to wonder what we have to show for the money.
Perhaps the $6 million would have been better spent helping to establish a series of experiences that run all year round?
You only have to look at any of the recent Victorian tourism reports to see where the future lies: eco-tourism, food, wine, art, culture, boutique/quirky shops and unique, luxury experiences. In other words, fun for grown ups who may, or may not, also want to take their kids along.
[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] O [/dropcap]nce again, Port Fairy is leading the way. It is hard to believe today, but 30 years ago Port Fairy was a very cheap place to live because it was considered a dumpy backwater.
Since then, it has reinvented itself spectacularly by tapping into its natural assets – its seaside location, history, charming buildings (see our story this week on Coffin Sally’s bar) and its access to the rich, fertile soils that support a boutique food and wine industry.
The same week as Fun4Kids started, for example, Port Fairy used its Winter Warmer Weekends to launch an artisan food trail.
Shane Clancey, from Basalt Wines, Killarney, has teamed up with the Merrijig Inn, Port Fairy, and Shaw River Buffalo Cheese, at Yambuk – among others – to showcase the fantastic food and wine that is produced in the area.
I can see Melbourne folk salivating already at the thought of driving down the Great Ocean Road, taking in the 12 Apostles, winding their way through the 12 Apostles Gourmet Food Trail that incorporates the Timboon Distillery, Newton’s Ridge, Apostle Whey Cheeses and others, then zooming on to Port Fairy to do more of the same, before retiring for the night in a gorgeous 1800’s cottage with a crackling fire.
Why would they bother to linger in Warrnambool?
[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] I [/dropcap] have written before about how frustrating it is that Warrnambool does not make more of its natural advantages. We have one of the most spectacular and accessible coastlines in south-west Victoria, but is there even one classy restaurant with sea views?
We have Tower Hill on our doorstep, which has already been identified as a potential tourism mecca, but what are we doing to help capitalise on its appeal to bushwalkers, birdwatchers and international visitors who appreciate our indigenous heritage far more than we do?
We have a city centre full of historic intact buildings – those that have not burnt down or been demolished – but what are we doing to assist those people trying to convert them into cafes, galleries, cosy wine bars, jazz clubs and boutique shops?
We have an incredible whale nursery, but is there a fun, interactive place for visitors to go and hear a whale sing, or to touch its ‘skin’, or learn about how and why they come to Warrnambool each year?
And we have an art gallery that was one of the best in regional Victoria when it opened in 1986, but has not seen any meaningful funds spent on it since – there isn’t even a cafe – and it now relies increasingly on corporate events and weddings for income.
Imagine, just for a moment, if we didn’t spend $450,000 a year on subsidising 8 days of Fun4Kids, but instead divided this money to help kickstart great ideas – food trails, artisan studios, laneway cafes, cosy bars, boutique shops, a bush tucker cafe at Tower Hill and the like.
Perhaps then Warrnambool would have some enduring funk – as well as fun – for people of all ages.
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