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Tourism and Bruny Island – An Opinion Piece

8 months 1 day ago #1 by Jonathan Ross
“Bruny Island should always be a special place that people come to visit in order to experience something different. It is a large island with many unique natural and cultural attractions. These same attractions are the reason why many people choose to live permanently on Bruny Island. The pressures and demands this places on a relatively small island community are not unique but they must be managed in order to avoid congestion, unacceptable site impacts and public safety and amenity issues during peak periods.”
Kingborough Council, Bruny Island Tourism Strategy 2016.

To get the ball rolling, it's probably best to state up front that the writer is not a raging leftie, a greenie, a business at all costs conservative or anti-tourism. I'm more of a middle of the road, does it pass the pub test sort. (I think it would be fair in replying to this topic, you might declare any vested interests when offering an opinion.)

Right so we got that bit out of the way. I read Tammy Price's editorial in the February Bruny News and think it deserves applause and further discussion. It echos a very familiar theme that comes up time and again that we are being “loved to death” here on Bruny. Talk to any resident for a period and inevitably the topic comes up. Our home is heavily promoted as a must see tourist destination and in essence, there is nothing wrong with that. The issue is unfettered and unregulated mass tourism impacting on the daily lives of residents and to what benefit? It is happening all over the world where tourist destinations such as Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik are groaning under the weight of tourist numbers. Bruny is no different, just on a smaller scale. We all know the issues so I am not going to labour them here.

As locals and residents who love the island and all that it offers, at what point do we say enough is enough? What can we do to prevent Bruny from becoming just a theme park for tourists? I think we recognise the issue but the main reason I am writing this piece is to pose the question, what can be done to ease the free for all that is tourism on Bruny Island at the moment?

From a business perspective, there is a drive to increase numbers so that the hospitality and short term rental markets are satisfied. That's what businesses do but where does it end? Is this a good thing for the community as a whole? Where is the balance between commercial gain and community welfare?

What is happening in Venice for example is an initiative to limit the number of day tourists who contribute little to the city other than over-crowding and putting a strain on facilities. They buy a few trinkets perhaps but have altered the entire dynamic of what it means to live as a local in Venice. The authorities there are attempting to steer tourism towards multi-night visitations whereby the visitors actually spend quality time in the city and importantly, spend their money there. Here's a quote from Simone Venturini, the city’s deputy mayor for tourism. “The aim is to discourage one-day tourism, hit-and-run tourism, arriving in one day and leaving in the same day, tiring and stressing the city, and encouraging slower tourism instead,” she explained.”

Getting back to the question of the constant drive to increase tourist numbers to feed the businesses here, what is the limit? My gut feel is Bruny Island needs a tourism master plan that looks forward to the next 10-20 years, mapping out how tourist visitations to the island should evolve. At the heart of the matter is the local businesses have a vested interest in increasing tourist numbers but that is at the expense of the lifestyle of the locals. There needs to be a balance. The Bruny Island Destination Action Plan 2016-18 was an attempt to steer and manage tourism on Bruny. It would appear to concentrate largely on the promotion of Bruny Island as a tourist destination, “enhancing” the experience for visitors, not necessarily improving the “experience” for those of us that live here permanently. (It should be noted there are some great ideas and concepts within the DAP that deserve revisiting.)

If we had a tourism master plan that encouraged, fewer but higher quality tourist numbers, the so called “slower tourism” route, businesses could plan accordingly. So instead of the build it big and they will come mentality, the businesses would need to factor in much lower visitation numbers but of a vastly different demographic. It's called planning ahead. It would give business operators a framework with which they could plan operations and expansion but also takes into account the concerns and needs of us, the local residents.

Lord Howe Island is a case in point where the lifestyle of the residents and environment of this World Heritage area is protected by limiting the number of visitors to the island at any one time. The island is heavily dependent on tourists for income too, just like Bruny. The difference is they have achieved a balance there, we have not.

In the year ending December 2015 Bruny Island attracted 111,000 visitors. In 2018 there were an estimated 150,000 visitors to Bruny. What was the number for 2022? 170,000? For the sake of this conversation, if there was a target number of say 100,000, it would enable all stakeholders to plan for and accommodate this number of visitors. Hospitality businesses can budget around these numbers in terms of staffing and infrastructure. Short term rental operators can adjust their offering according to supply and demand. What is the alternative? Just allow continued, unabated growth until we have 200,000 visitors a year, 250,000....... We will be like Venice where citizens have come to the realisation they have killed the goose that laid the golden egg. Our goose isn't cooked but it's simmering in the pot.

It would seem that for any tourism master plan for Bruny, a tourist levy is the most obvious tool with which to start reigning in the numbers. We are in the fortunate position that we have a choke point at the ferry terminal where 99.9% of visitors must pass. A tourism levy has two benefits in that it can be used as a lever to control numbers and the funds collected can be used to improve facilities on the island. A win-win situation.

So to summarise, fundamentally tourism on Bruny is not a bad thing. We are all tourists at some point when we step off the island. What we need is a framework for sustainable tourism so that businesses know where they stand, can plan for the future and locals can breathe easier. That means a master plan where the emphasis is not on marketing, branding and promotion but rather sustainable tourism for ALL stakeholders.

It's time for a rethink and a reset to protect the future of Bruny Island for all who live and work here.

Jonathan Ross

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