Grape Growers Association WA president Darryl Trease has cautiously welcomed a State Government funding announcement for the Swan Valley but he says funding a tourism strategy, without sorting out planning issues first, puts the cart before the horse.
His comments have come on the back of an announcement by Tourism Minister Paul Papalia to inject $800,000 into a strategy that would see visitor spend in region grow by $132 million by 2020.
The strategy will support marketing partnerships, experience trails and tourist transport to encourage growth.
It will be driven by Tourism Western Australia, the City of Swan, local businesses and the tourism industry.
Last week, Mr Papalia met with wine producers, restaurateurs and representatives from tourism attractions and transport businesses to discuss the future of tourism in the Swan Valley.
“We don’t believe the Swan Valley has been fully leveraged as the unique tourist attraction it is, and it’s a great opportunity,” he said.
“We haven’t really exploited it to the extend we can.”
The meeting followed last month’s announcement that the former government’s plans to replace the Swan Valley Planning Act 1995 would be put on hold and the Act reviewed, with consideration given to supporting vital industries such as viticulture and tourism.
Planning Minister Rita Saffioti said reform to legislation overseeing the Swan Valley was critical to the region’s future success.
“We have been seeking local input and expertise to ensure the Swan Valley continues to grow as a tourism region while respecting the needs of the local community.”
Mr Papalia said his meeting last week with industry was the first step and he would look at ways Tourism WA and local industry could build on the City of Swan’s Tourism Development Strategy 2015-2020.
The council released the strategy in 2015 with an aim of attracting an additional 120,000 visitors by 2020.
Some of the opportunities identified to grow visitor numbers include developing a marketing strategy for the Swan Valley in partnership with local industry.
Developing new and upgrading existing experience trails, trialling a hop-on, hop-off bus service for tourists and building capacity in existing tourism businesses were also identified as opportunities.
City of Swan chief executive officer Mike Foley said the city was keen to work with the State Government to tackle issues and to offer surety to residents and businesses invested in the area.
He said water and water allocation in the Swan Valley was becoming a big issue for grape growers and wine makers.
“There was 4000 hectares of grapes in the Swan Valley in 1995 when the Act first came into being and now there is less than 1000,” Mr Foley said.
“That’s obviously a concern if it’s going to be an ongoing tourism body.
“How we promote the valley together is a key part of us working together.”
Mr Papalia said Tourism WA was already working with the city on parts of the strategy, particularly around developing and promoting food and wine trails.
“The region is home to more than 150 tourism businesses and getting the conditions right to see tourism grow, will be important in our plan to grow jobs in the state.”
He said visitor attraction remained the State Government’s number one tourism priority.
“Everything we are doing is about growing numbers to create jobs, develop business opportunities and diversify the economy.”
Mr Trease said $200,000 each year over the next four years was fantastic but the tourism strategy vision needed to be clear and he was also concerned about the potential to have money wasted.
“I know the money is there but we don’t want to see it wasted on expensive consultants, as we’ve had a lot of consultation over the years discussing the future of the Swan Valley,” he said.
“We know what the issues are and I don’t think we need more consultation, with expensive consultants to go through the same issues that have already been identified.”
Mr Trease said issues identified included water, sustainability and the right to farm.
“I do wonder how is the money going to be spent and what will the priorities be?
“Let’s sort the vision of the valley out first before we worry too much about the tourism strategy because without viticulture where does the valley go?
“To me putting out a tourism strategy without sorting out the planning issues is putting the cart before the horse.”
Mr Trease said the grape growers had a meeting with the planning minister recently.
“She was very positive and mentioned the right to farm was her top priority, along with sorting out the water issues and a lot of other general planning issues in the valley that will make it easier to grow grapes,” he said.
“We can’t avoid competition but if that’s the State Government’s vision, and they want viticulture to remain in the valley, they need to factor that in their planning.”