The tourism industry of the Northern Rivers is concerned about the message being sent to potential investors and events organisers following the latest decision to take another major event, Rally Australia, elsewhere.

“The tourism industry directly and indirectly is a major employer and contributor to the economy of the Northern Rivers and a diversity of major events through the year is a vital part of our tourism mix,” says CEO for Northern Rivers Tourism, Russell Mills.

“There is no doubt that the very vocal concerns of the anti-rally group have led to the relocation of the Australian leg of the World Rally Championship. While everyone has a right to voice concerns, I don’t think every protest group represents the broad interests of the regional community.

“An independent report showed that the value of the Rally to our region had been more than $27 million in 2009, so our loss is now Coffs Coast’s gain.

“Often ignored is the massive publicity value that media focus on our region during major events like the Rally provides.  It provides a space for us – indeed anyone – to convey what they are passionate about and serves to build awareness of and interest in our destinations.

“The biggest negative impact of the rally for our region has proven to be the work of the rally opponents themselves in having it shifted.  Theirs is a very hollow victory.”

The decision follows the relocation of the Splendour in the Grass Festival to Queensland and the Tweed Wintersun Festival to Port Macquarie.  

“This is a worrying trend of major events leaving our region due to lack of a proactive lobby for supporting major events in the region. The message these relocations are sending to people is that the Northern Rivers is not supportive of major events – take them elsewhere,” Mr Mills said.

“While there is a groundswell of support for bringing it back, the departure of Splendour in the Grass has been a major loss not only economically, but culturally and socially.

“It occurred due to a passive, naive and complacent attitude toward the value of events on the part of the business and residential community, local government and the NSW government.

“This decision also comes on the back of a very slow season. Businesses in our region have made it clear they support proactive marketing to attract visitors, an example being the overwhelming support for Byron United’s My Byron Day campaign.

“Northern Rivers Tourism will be calling on local councils and regional peak bodies to work together to develop a proactive regional events strategy to attract and retain events in our region, as well as lobbying the NSW government and Events NSW on the need to provide support to regional areas to attract and retain major events.

“The current complacency is disturbing and damaging, only adding to our problems as other event organisers assess the hostile climate that seems to be developing to major events.

“You need only look at the Byron Shire Council’s draft events policy now proposed to be part of its Local Environment Plan. The policy has attracted widespread criticism for its non-consultative and overtly restrictive approach to major events.

“Conducted responsibly, major events have such a short-term physical impact but provide such a valuable longer-term financial return to the economy and community. Major events have more resources to make a valuable contribution back to the community that hosts them and they should be part of the diversity of experiences that the Northern Rivers can offer.”