Regional success from making towns famous for something
Small towns that want to develop themselves economically could hit the right note by making themselves famous for something.
That’s the advice of Michael Denton, of Queensland Events Corporation, who is in New Zealand to speak to delegates at the Regional Development Conference in Timaru this week.
He says it has worked well for some very small towns in Queensland, which have used their point of difference as a basis for events to raise their profile. He says it’s a relatively cheap way to make themselves famous when other trends might be running against them.
Michael Denton says it is all about creating a reason for people to come to a town or region. Increased tourist numbers provides financial benefits to local businesses and helps create employment as well as contributing to a stronger regional and national economy.
Queensland Events was set up by the state government in 1989 after the World Expo in Brisbane and inititally its role was to bring national and international events into the state, events like the Rugby World Cup, Goodwill Games and major triathlons. However, over the past five to seven years regional events have started to take off.
“A lot of areas, particularly in regional Queensland have been suffering from the decline of traditional industry and population drift to the cities. Tourism has started to become a major economic driver for a lot of those centres.”
In 2001 a programme was established with a budget of $3 million over three years specicially to help existing regional events to grow and to develop new ones. Michael Denton says the programme has been an outstanding success, with about 85 events right across the state receiving funding.
“This has allowed event organisers for the first time to market outside their region which has brought record attendances for some events.”
Michael Denton says the biggest success story is a little town called Isisford in central western Queensland with a population of 150 to 200 people. [more]
“The town was famous for absolutely nothing and it was a town in decline. What they did have going for them was that they are on the Barcoo River where you can fish for yellowbelly, a prized freshwater fish.”
He says Isisford applied for funding to put on a fishing competition, and ended up with 800 people attending the first event from as far away as Tasmania, and a profit of $16,000. He says the annual event has raised the town’s profile and community motivation and confidence.
He says that’s what Queenland Events wants to achieve with the regional events programmes. He advises areas to look to their own strengths rather than copying others’ successes – and cites the hot and dusty Julia Creek as an example.
“They decided to use their weakness as a strength and came up with the Dust and Dirt Triathlon which is now attracting many people including some famous overseas competitors.”
He says the Queensland Events Corporation is looking at extending the programme from just funding to scholarships that offer opportunities for people to gain experience in event management.
“We are also looking to work with local authorities to employ full time development officers to help encourage and drive local projects.”
He says a good event will bring people to the region, it can bring international success but the best result is that people on holiday recognise the name and mark it as a place to visit.