Strike balance: tourism boss

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times

As he finishes up seven years as chairman of the Margaret River-Busselton Tourism Association board, Trent Bartlett says future planning must strike a balance between protecting the region and harnessing its strong destination appeal.

Speaking with the Times, Mr Bartlett, pictured, who is a professional board manager and teaches for the Australian Institute of Company Directors, said long-term residents were quite correct to fear Margaret River becoming another Noosa or Byron Bay.

“Absolutely,” he said.

“There is a real tension. Our contribution to tourism has to make sure it is economic as well as environmental.

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“They (residents) will feel disenfranchised if we don’t strike that balance correctly.”

Working in partnership with other local stakeholder groups, Mr Bartlett said the MRBTA had a clear vision moving forward, which would set its focus, and determine what proposals received support.

“That’s our way of saying it is not consistent with our vision for how tourism will operate here,” he said.

“Increasingly, the chair role is being called upon to be involved in stakeholder meetings.

“There’s a lot of stuff we do behind the scenes to bring people together and keep making things happen.”

Among those issues forced to the surface by COVID-19 was adequate future planning to protect the region from population and tourism pressures.

“We are an island within an island within an island,” Mr Bartlett said.

“That’s very attractive in a COVID world.”

COVID-19 drove a surge of fear through the tourism industry, and the MRBTA was not spared — even though the outcome was not as severe in WA compared with other destinations.

“COVID has helped us in that regard,” he said.

“We need to continue to make sure we can continue to be a resilient organisation.

“How do we keep our member value proposition viable?”

Although operators were missing big-spending overseas travellers, the “pandemic pivot” also forced many to re-evaluate their business models better to cater to the intrastate market, which always made up the bulk of tourists visiting the region.

The incoming chair would face a complex role, navigating out of the pandemic while fostering a protection of the region’s environment on which its tourism depended.

“Tourism captures a lot of issues,” Mr Bartlett said.

Among those issues were the growing hopes interstate, and eventually international, flights to Busselton would bring the next wave of tourists.

While the lack of a passenger terminal at the Busselton-Margaret River Airport was a political football, Mr Bartlett said the need for a proper passenger-handling facility would become “self-evident” once visitation picked up. He believed there was a role for State and Federal Government to work together, since Customs and other services would be needed.

Mr Bartlett also saluted the City of Busselton as “pioneers” in local governments involved in destination tourism.

“We are all going to be pleasantly surprised by the volumes (of arrivals), and the question of the passenger terminal will be self-evident,” he said.

The new future chairperson would also decide whether MRBTA continued its management under the triumvirate of three managers sharing the chief executive role.

Mr Bartlett noted each co-CEO managed a separate business stream and anyone stepping into the position full-time would add a senior salary to MRBTA staff costs.

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