When will the penny drop for WA tourism bosses?

Can't see the forest for the trees


DATELINE: January 20, 2012.

To whom it may concern, I wish to know why recreational fishing was virtually excluded from this brochure distributed through the West Australian newspaper today as a valid tourism attraction?

In the first 36 pages of text, we got one pic of two people standing on a jetty with fishing rods, and a couple of cursory mentions.

This despite the fact that the social and economic value of rec fishing would absolutely eclipse that of most of the other activities put together.

Many very good people do a lot to promote our local fishing attractions, which are already a massive earner for the State and have the potential to attract serious overseas dollars, as happens in places like New Zealand and even closer to home in the Northern Territory.

Instead, we seem to be stuck in a State where you dare not mention fishing for fear of upsetting green interests.

I can tell you that far more people are interested in fishing in the South-West than truffle hunting, which cops a mention in the brochure.

Time and again I see stories in the media bemoaning the loss of tourism dollars to cheap overseas destinations like Bali and Thailand, well it is hardly surprising given that the powers that be choose to ignore a family-friendly pastime that is the lifeblood of many rural towns and has the potential to drive repeat visits.

If I was one of those towns, I’d be pretty cheesed off with my tourism representatives.

As one chap from Leeman told me when I asked him about ecotourism in the town: "Not everyone is lucky enough to have whale sharks. We aren’t all Exmouth."

I should also point out that I contacted Tourism WA a few years ago to ask if they’d be interested in co-producing a book on WA’s best fishing destinations to distribute overseas. I was told it was not an appropriate allocations of funds.

Some of you may also be aware of the recent Robson Green debacle, when he was going to head to Exmouth to film an episode of his series, which is shown to a global audience, repeatedly.

The local travel centre told him the weather was not likely to be any good and he decided to head to South Australian instead.

Little wonder tourism dollars are heading overseas if this is the way we run things.

I look forward to your response.

Regards, Scott Coghlan

DATELINE: September 20, 2017.

Tourism: Big fall in travel numbers from eastern states to WA (www.news.com.au)

There has been another big fall in the number of Eastern States people travelling to WA for tourism or business.

Figures reveal a 12.7 per cent slump since June last year, which represents a fall of 150,000 visitors, prompting alarm from the tourism sector.

"We are being left way behind," Tourism Council chief Evan Hall said.

"The reality is we don’t even have a head of tourism marketing in WA and our attempts at destination marketing for WA have underperformed."

The slide in business-related visitors can be attributed to the State’s economic downturn, but another figure that has tourism operators concerned is the number of West Australians holidaying in their own State — down 9.7 per cent.

Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said changes were needed to arrest the slide.

"These latest figures just confirm the need to shift the emphasis from long-term brand awareness strategies to a far more immediate focus on increasing visitor numbers to the State in the near term," Mr Papalia said.

"We know the tourism sector, particularly the Perth hotel industry, is hurting and the Government’s number one priority is filling seats on planes and getting people to Perth."

The only good news in the latest figures was that international visitors to the State had increased by about 11 per cent and spending by tourists coming to WA was up.

But the Tourism Council said the biggest market was interstate travellers and WA had to spend more and create better strategies to woo them across the Nullarbor.

"It’s still far too difficult to get new tourism experiences here through red tape despite the private sector trying very hard," Mr Hall said.

The first part of this column was an email from yours truly to the Tourism Minister almost six years ago, not long after global TV star Robson Green was directed away from WA in his attempt to film an episode of his very popular TV series, Extreme Fishing. (He was told it wasn’t worth going to Exmouth as it was too windy!)

The second was a story by Gary Adshead a few months ago, which was duly followed by a number of similar articles in the mainstream media bemoaning dwindling tourist numbers in WA.

The question is, what did we learn in the interim five and a half years?

Well, seemingly not much if Gary’s article was taken at face value.

While New Zealand makes a small fortune from fishing tourism, and Queensland rakes in the cash from its barra impoundments and the Cairns black marlin fishery, and plucky little Pacific atoll Kiritimati survives almost entirely on the wallets of it piscatorial visitors, the value of fishing tourism continues to be lost on blinkered WA decision makers.

Not that they need to look far for inspiration, if they actually want it.

Just across the border in the Northern Territory, Tourism NT is a major supporter of the brilliant Million Dollar Barra promotion, which has been a resounding success in attracting anglers from across the world to wet a line in the NT.

Meanwhile, we get crickets chirping in WA as our world-class fisheries go largely unpromoted and many small coastal towns which once rode on the back of crayfishing dream of attracting more piscatorial visitors to boost flagging local economies.

We have an emerging impoundment barramundi fishery in Lake Kununurra which is already producing some of the fastest growing barra in the country, a sportfishing run of the very highest quality in Australian salmon in the stunning South-West, incredible game fishing opportunities off Exmouth and a host of other "bucket list" fishing destinations like the Kimberley, Monte Bellos, Mackerel Islands and Abrolhos Islands, to name but a few.

The lure of WA fishing for interstate and even overseas anglers was also evident when samson jigging off Perth was at its peak, and yet our tourism officials still don’t seem to get it.

Fishing tourism, particularly when it comes to sportfishing (a term bizarrely banned from use within the Department of Fisheries), is massive right around the world but not in good ‘ole Wait Awhile.

Everything is in place for us to have a thriving fishing tourism industry, we have the locations, the fish and the operators, but the potential is not being realised and one of the chief reasons is that it’s not being promoted to a wider audience seemingly due to short sightedness of local tourism bosses.

Ecotourism is king in WA.

I have my own theories on why that is the case (green enclaves and all in an era of political correctness) and there was a study a few years ago which trumpeted just how much ecotourism is worth to Exmouth and was touted as evidence why angler lockouts were the way forward for regional economies.

I will give you the tip, fishing is worth much more to the Exmouth economy, exponentially so most likely.

What they didn’t promote was that the same survey of visitors to the town showed that almost everyone who visited Exmouth intended to wet a line while there, and one only has to watch the conga line of large boats going through the Caltex servo there on a nice day to see just how much money is generated by fishing.

What’s more, the German backpacker who visits Exmouth and sees a whale shark will almost certainly never return, but the family of anglers who have a ball out on the water while fishing and see some whales will decide to come back and spend money in the town every year.

Fishing also attracts people to the town 12 months a year, not just during the whale shark season.

In further evidence of the scant regard paid to recreational fishing as an important tourism activity, we have two of our three big wooden jetties – Carnarvon and Esperance – in a state of major disrepair.

The Busselton Jetty, conveniently located close to one major green enclave, has received plenty of funding and been a terrific success as a tourism attraction, but no one seems to care about the other two – strange (and infuriating) isn’t it?

Funnily enough South Australia, the State which was more than happy to welcome Robson Green and his show, manages to maintain nice jetties in almost every coastal town – the Croweaters incredibly seem to value them.

Going back a few years, the pipeline debacle at the Lefroy Brook and subsequent closure of the brilliant Rainbow Trail tourist drive also spoke volumes for how highly decision makers consider recreational fishing.

It’s the sort of short-sightedness that has led us to the position we are in now, where we have tourism officials bleating about how to arrest the decline in visitor numbers.

There are none so blind as those who do not want to see.

Captions: Other countries have worked out there is big money to be made in attracting recreational fishers to their shores. When will the penny drop for WA tourism bosses?
The lure of catching big salmon off South-West beaches has the potential to draw anglers from across the world.