Something has stopped tourists from coming to Naracoorte and Lucindale.
Naracoorte Lucindale Council discussed worrying statistics on Monday night which revealed that from 2010-11 to 2015-16, tourism dollars spent in the council district plummeted by 36 per cent.
CEO Helen Macdonald presented the figures, gleaned from the last two Census surveys, in a report challenging elected members to think about how the council could play an active role in turning the negative trend around.
Ms Macdonald conceded that “everyone is a bit bemused” by the fact that Naracoorte Lucindale suffered a decrease in spend from $34.1 million in 2010-11 to $21.8m in 2015-16, while Wattle Range Council actually saw an increase.
While that could be partly explained by Wattle Range having a tourism-focussed staff member in that period, Ms Macdonald said a lack of variety of accommodation in Naracoorte and Lucindale had to be a factor.
She said discussions with key tourism people suggested the closure of Chardonnay Lodge at Coonawarra had greatly detracted from the accommodation options available and therefore the tourism appeal of the South East.
“We don’t have enough variety of accommodation, the big spenders are not coming.”
Cr Craig McGuire felt tourists, particularly families, were looking for destinations which provided multiple attractions to make an extended stay worthwhile. He said Naracoorte had the caves, Bool Lagoon and the swimming lake, but not much else.
He asked: “What gives them the reason to stay another day?”
He suggested developing a joint promotion with, say, Penola and Robe, to offer a regional package including vines and the seaside.
Several councillors said a large conference centre was a big ticket item that the council should be looking at to draw visitors.
Cr Trevor Rayner said he attended a local government function at a major conference centre at Murray Bridge which showed him the benefits of such a facility.
He said apart from the Barn Palais at Mount Gambier, there was no centre that could hold up to 600 people. “Naracoorte’s really lacking it, the whole area is,” he said.
A number of councillors spoke positively about opportunities at the western end of Smith St, with the OTR development and the possible opening up of rail lands presenting opportunities.
Cr Damien Ross said the rail lands could be a huge asset to the town if the council was able to coordinate a few achievable outcomes.
He said the silos on the rail lands were past their use by date and could be removed, while various businesses scattered through the large site could be approached to relocate elsewhere in the town.
That would open up the whole area to development.
Cr Rebecca Smith suggested moving the town’s visitor information centre to the corner facing the new OTR so it was more visible to people who at present have nothing to stop them bypassing the town via Deviation Rd
She felt it would “work well with the new focus on that part of town”.
Cr Julie Earl suggested using the vacant shopfronts in the main street to have “pop-up” displays promoting the caves. Ms Macdonald agreed that could be part of a strategy under the Caves Connect program which was aimed at directing people from the town to the caves, but also getting visitors to the caves into Naracoorte.
Cr McGuire also said more work needed to be done on attracting another provider of secondary education to Naracoorte.