Harbinger Consultants

Culture + Complexity + Change

FIELDWORK | Central Western Queensland

We’ve spent the last week doing fieldwork in Central Western Queensland for economic and community development projects: a visitor experience study addressing how to enhance tourism, and strategic and change planning for a community facility, which is facing a reorganisation of its services and funding. This is the stuff of the ‘Ps’ defining our working methodology – place, people, product, potential, partnership + pollinating. In this context, the pollinating aspect involves drawing out the latent creativity in a community through engaging processes and empowerment. Communities are tired of being swamped by problems – they want to mobilise in a way that realises potential. Sometimes this requires improvisation and sometimes it requires detailed planning.

The visitor experience study builds on work undertaken for a pre-feasibility and feasibility study for a tourist facility in Tambo. As this project is unlikely to proceed in the near future, we were invited back to the community to explore how visitor experience can be enhanced. A visitor experience study would provide further baseline data for developing destination management. With the tourist season drawing to an close for the year, we developed an approach comprised of a printed survey made available via the Visitor Information Centre and other key locations in the town as well as ground truthing through face to face street interviews with visitors, face to face interviews with business operators, consultations with Councillors, and consultations with community groups which provided a range of insights and ideas.

Community focus group – Tambo visitor experience study

In Australia, 46 cents in every dollar of tourism expenditure was spent in regional Australia. Tourism represents 6.5 per cent of the Outback’s regional economy. Tourism in the region is economically significant and regional communities are generally more dependent on tourism revenues. Despite the economic importance, the tourism industry in the Outback is comparatively small. Tourism Research Australia states that “Tourism in regions whose economies are dependent on tourism is more likely to be vulnerable to shocks that affect the tourism industry. Whether their economies are large or small, the importance of these local tourism industries to their regional economies is considerable, as unexpected shocks could impact on the entire local economy.”  In the past few years the Global Financial Crisis and extreme weather events (including drought and flood) have resulted in major shocks for regional tourism.

After these recent shocks, it is clear that regional and outback tourism is returning with many people commenting that visits for stop or stay are ‘picking up’. We noted a steady stream of caravans and cars through the town, with an apparently high level of overnight stays in both paid and unpaid accommodation. Events held during the week, including a roast dinner night at the pub and a race meeting on the weekend, resulted in a high level of overnight stays and higher than usual spend in the town. The multiplier effect for regional and outback towns is significant. Towns hum along with the roll of haulage and local/regional events such as camp drafts and the like.

Tambo has particularly historic attributes – as a well kept and attractive town located on Queensland’s grassy plains – and offers a range of services, experiences and opportunities for visitors regardless of length of stay or age. As our fieldwork coincided with school holidays we encountered a few families sprinkled among the ‘grey nomads’, many of whom were doing the trek between their southern homes and Darwin, along the Matilda Highway. However, travelling is hard work and travellers are often trying to keep to a timetable – with one business operator reporting that he had spotted many a tourist hanging out of their car snapping photos as they cruised down the main street, too pressed for time to stop.

For the second project, which focuses on the development of a strategic and operational plan for a community centre, we are preparing a response to the changing funding and service provision parameters of the facility. We have undertaken a planning workshop and demographic analysis to develop a community and client based approach to planning and service design for this facility. This top down/bottom up approach will mean a facility that is firmly grounded in community priorities and aspirations. Drawing out local knowledge and innovation is an important dimension of our process and practice.

We’d like to thank everyone in Tambo for their hospitality and generosity. As we’ve said in a number of forums, we are honoured to be working with such a progressive and forward thinking community.

Because so much of our work is grounded in consultative processes and qualitative research, we’re also pleased to announce that Linda will be completing two of the three modules of the International Association of Public Participation accredited training this month, with the third and final training module due in December. IAP2’s training is regarded as an industry standard – while we benchmark against IAP2 approaches, it will be of great benefit to both our clients and our practice to be accredited.


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