By KAREN BUCK
The Voice of the South has been looking at one of the industries vital to the wellbeing of our area – tourism. We’ve been taking the pulse of the local tourism industry to ascertain how confident service operators are about the future. In the wake of strong growth figures just released by Tourism WA for Denmark, KAREN BUCK talked with a range of local providers. In our next issue she will focus on the Plantagenet tourism industry.
DENMARK is a regional success story when it comes to winning tourist numbers, according to the latest figures released by Tourism WA.
While Albany and Plantagenet have suffered a depressing downturn over the past three years Denmark is heading the opposite way, with a whopping 36.6 percent increase in visitor numbers.
Local tourism providers claim their success is down to hard work, strong customer focus and the strength of their own marketing campaigns –- plus, of course, the beauty of the area. They also say they’ve done it all with little perceptible support from the regional marketing body, the Amazing South Coast (see story Tourism body cops flak from members).
One provider mystified by what she’s heard about a local downturn is Gill Atkinson from The Toffee Factory. “Maybe we’re lucky because of our position, but I can’t understand what I’m hearing because our figures are going up, up, up every month,” Ms Atkinson said. “January was up 16 percent, and last month was up eight or nine percent on the same time last year.” One of the keys to their success was constant reviewing of the business and looking to see what they could do better, she said.
Since Jess Coad and her partner took on managing Denmark’s Karri Mia accommodation two years ago they have increased occupancy rates from 18 percent to 40 percent. Ms Coad puts that down to a combination of persistent hard work, strong social media marketing including via booking agencies, good repeat business and wordof-mouth referrals. “We’re very proud of what we’re achieved,” she said. “We have a unique location – not just at the centre of local wineries and the Scotsdale Valley but midway between Walpole, Mount Barker and Albany, so we’re a great place to base yourself to explore the region.” Another factor in their success was maintaining a 100 percent focus on client needs. People stayed there for a few days at a time, and the couple focused on ensuring that visitors had a wonderful experience. “We’ve refurbished some of the chalets, and we know that people have to really enjoy their accommodation – not just have a terrific experience when they step outside,” Ms Coad said. Flexibility around rates and offering winter specials all helped to keep people coming.
Denmark Rivermouth Caravan Park proprietor Noel Phillips says his family-owned-and-operated business has an average 55 percent occupancy. “We’re happy with that, though of course there’s always room for more,” he said. Mr Phillips mostly
does his own marketing campaigns on social media and television, and gets good repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations. “We are members of tourist marketing bodes like the Amazing South Coast, but I’m a believer that if you want something done well you do it yourself.” Two thousand people came to his boat hire business in just two peak months of his business year. “Only four of them came as a result of referrals from the local visitor centre, so I guess what we’re doing elsewhere is working well for us,” he said.
At Karri Aura accommodation numbers have been steadily trending upwards since Fin James started the business four and a half years ago. “Though it’s a bit quieter in the winter months, depending on the weather, season-on-season we’ve been steadily increasing,” she said. “We’re the cheapest accommodation on Mt Shadforth, and pride ourselves on offering great value for money, along with fabulous views.” Ms James markets the business via several online booking agencies and has a strong repeat client base, as well as word-of-mouth referrals.
Another local accommodation provider The Voice spoke with thought that the best thing in recent years for Denmark tourism had been the provision of the highspeed road from Perth to Margaret River. “We don’t want the kind of kamikaze tourist influx that has ruined Margaret River,” he said. “We want to sustain the beautiful things that attract people to visit and live in our area.”
Denmark Chamber of Commerce executive officer Liz Jack said that tourism was a complex industry affected by myriad factors. “Figures are only meaningful if they indicate exactly what they relate to and what market they’re coming from,” she said. “They need to tell a meaningful story that operators can relate to their business activities.” Ms Jack said that it was often hard to draw conclusions from one set of numbers, such as earlier reports of a downturn in local visitor numbers. “By and large, tourism providers in Denmark report to us that they’re doing well,” she said. “That’s vital, because I doubt there is a business of any description which isn’t impacted by tourist numbers coming in to the district.”
One of the big issues for Denmark was to ensure that visitors’ expectations were managed. ”We’ve heard concerns about after-hours food availability, a limited number of restaurants, and the fact that many cafes aren’t open on the weekends due to their own lifestyle needs,” Ms Jack said. “We have to be careful in the way that we market our destination and make sure that tourists get the experience they are expecting.” Along with managing visitor expectations Denmark also needed a robust discussion about a business model that supported its brand. The world was full of beautiful, naïve places just like Denmark which had been “nuked” through people not understanding the longterm impact of both the positive and negative aspects of tourism growth.