Alan James OAM, General Manager of the Darwin Entertainment Centre, delivered the Regional Australia Keynote at the Australian Event Symposium.
James’ long career in events and entertainment at the Top End and around the world has seen him manage the internationally renowned Northern Territory Yothu Yindi band, head up the Yothu Yindi Foundation for two decades and co-found the Garma Festival.
This is an edited transcript of Alan’s presentation
I argue that the biggest opportunity for tourism in Australia is the potential for expansion into regional Australia.
From what I can see Sydney is full! 45 minutes wait time for a cab at the airport & $300+ per night hotel rooms all driven by demand.
It’s not like that in regional Australia except when there is a successful EVENT.
In the big cities there is a strong likelihood that a new event is just replacing an old event and not actually a growth factor but in fact maintaining the status quo.
The real growth potential lies in regional areas that don’t have events.
Events can play a major role in activating Regional tourism and economic activity.
The right sort of event generates return visitors year after year and consistent growth over many years.
Research has consistently shown that Australia’s most unique selling points are our natural landscape & seascape and Indigenous Culture. Where do you find these? In regional Australia.
It’s also worth noting that for successful annual regional events the sum is greater than the parts. There is a flow on effect communities are activated and transformed, the marketing and publicity brings visitors at other times of the year, community engagement, volunteer programs, activated arts communities and they kick start other tourism business.
Some successful examples
Byron Bay BluesFest try getting a hotel room at Easter within 100km of Byron.
Woodford Folk Festival north of Brisbane. Same story. The Queensland Government has invested over the years in it recognizing the economic impact for the State.
A developing newer example is the Australian Festival of Chamber Music in Townsville Grey Nomads have it on their bucket list.
Margaret River Wine Festival, and a string of winery driven events in different parts of the country.
In the South Island of New Zealand the bi-annual Warbirds over Waneka aviation gathering is now recognised internationally, with visitors planning two years in advance.
In the NT there is the annual Darwin Cup, the V8s, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award, the Garma Festival and the Darwin Festival which combined have resulted in the June – September period being close to capacity with visitations.
What makes them work, what are the Fundamentals?
They usually start with a few passionate people who have the spark.
Townsville and Waneka prove that it’s not location specific.
Long term vision and a business plan (Woodford has a 400 year plan!)
It takes 10 years for an event to be established, 15 years to be secure and 20 years to reach full potential. There is little or no point in a 1 to 3 year investment. It takes vision and commitment.
Governance who owns the event? A strong board with clear understanding of strategy and structure needs to be robust enough to deal with changes in management and maintain the vision.
Site Tenure – Bluesfest verses Big Day out are great examples. A large part of their resilience comes from owning their site and having a guarantee of tenure.
Do an annual Economic impact study from day one. The data is invaluable.
Linkages & collaborations can add up and make a big difference.
Darwin Cup / Garma Festival / NATSIAA / Darwin Festival / Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair / National Indigenous Music Award are all essentially linked and as a consequence Darwin is full in June – September.
Marketing & Publicity with a 10 year plan the institutional marketing will kick in over time. The event becomes part of the wallpaper. The brand becomes very strong.
Social media is as relevant in the regions as it is in the cities.
People will come to quality – Quality programming and quality organization is key.
As is consistency. A not so good year is a lot better than a did not run – a cancellation smashes your brand. People may have planned their travel arrangements for 18 months.
In Darwin at the moment at the Entertainment Centre we are experimenting with a different model with an annual Indigenous cultural Festival in May.
The Festival is not funded as such but the Darwin Entertainment Centre has two theatres, a small gallery and outdoor space. It also has staff, equipment, a box office and marketing team. Now we add some quality programming and with commitment from the board the aim is to build a festival that as its cornerstone pays respect to the Indigenous people of the Darwin region while programming new locally produced work, plus work of national significance.
Much of Australia¹s wealth comes from regional Australia. Investing back will have a whole range of positive outcomes.
The biggest potential for tourism growth is in regional Australia – driven by events unique to regional communities and driven by those communities.
This strategy plays to the research that shows visitors are interested in our natural landscape, seascape and Indigenous Culture.
The best way to activate is to make long term investments in events that are built to last.
Engage with passionate and motivated people within the community. Be creative with the ideas, with the “Hook”.
Support events that will have a repeat client base.
If State Governments each invested $500,000 a year into events in five regional towns or cities over a 10 year period the economic impact would be immense.
Most interstate and international visitors would still transit through the capital cities so there would be no negative effect, only an increase in regional tourism and many other positive returns for those communities involved.