Eye on Avon Tourism: MPs back hidden gem Avon Valley

As we wrap up the Avon Valley and Wheatbelt Advocate's Eye on Avon Tourism series, the state government and locals MPs have had their say on the tourism opportunities in the region.

Both sides of politics agree that the Avon Valley region has tourism potential with its proximity to Perth - supported by local statistics that show York and Toodyay are on track to record consistently high visitor numbers for the 2018/19 financial year.

Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said the Avon Valley is an attractive holiday destination.

"The Avon Valley is an incredible part of WA and is ripe for tourism growth," he said.

"It's close proximity to the city and the airport means it is easy for locals and visitors to access.

"It offers everything we know people from our key markets are looking for in a holiday - nature, wildlife, picturesque scenery, wineries and some great experiences such as hot air ballooning."

Mr Papalia said the state government had supported the region through Tourism WA marketing.

"Tourism WA also supports several events in the area through its Regional Events Scheme including the Avon Descent, A Taste of Chittering, the York Festival, the Beverley Heroic, York Motorcycle Festival, Northam Motor Sport Festival and Moondyne Festival," he said.

"The Avon Valley also features in the WA Food and Wine Trail initiative, which has been supported by Tourism WA to showcase locations across the state."

More support needed

Nationals WA leader Mia Davies said one-off funding for events was not enough to see the region become a tourism hotspot.

"This region has so much to offer, but we're a bit of a hidden gem," she said.

"We're on the doorstop of the city and within easy reach of the state's major airport and can offer tourists some great experiences and events.

"Our challenge has always been that we compete for the promotional dollar that governments typically direct to the Margaret River region, Broome and Exmouth, where tourism product is already mature.

"There's no doubt that event tourism is a significant opportunity, and this is where the state government could play a more supportive role.

"One-off funding means Shires and organisers spend their time scrounging for dollars instead of building and promoting these events.

"Two or even three-year funding packages for events would provide them with a sustainable footing and give local businesses confidence to invest and capitalise on the dollars people spend when they attend."

Ms Davies said collaboration between local and state government was important to secure tourism success.

"There is always potential for more and I would like to see a greater focus by the state government on partnering with regions like ours to realise this potential," she said.

Ms Davies said visitors centres were vital when it comes to local tourism.

"In government we committed and delivered greater support for our regional visitors centres," she said.

"The value of these centres cannot be underestimated - they are signposts in our communities opening doors to our local businesses, encouraging visitors to stay longer and inspiring them to return.

"Improving visitor experiences is an important component to creating economic and job opportunities for local communities."

Local figures

The Shire of York has led the way in tourism growth of late, with visitor centre numbers increasing from 19,800 in 2016/17 to more than 36,000 people the following year.

Toodyay visitor numbers have remained stable, with around 29,000 people coming through the doors of the visitor centre.

The town is estimating 31,000 visitors will visit the centre in the 12 months ending June 2019.

Northam does not follow the same growth, with the 2018/19 financial year tracking to have the lowest visitor numbers in four years.

At its most-recent peak in 2015/16, the visitor centre recorded just under 14,000 visits but this has decreased to numbers in the 10,000s.

Indigenous draw card

Agricultural Region MP Darren West said Indigenous education is an industry full of potential, tapped into by the Shire of Northam through the Bilya Koort Boodja Centre for Nyoongar Culture and Environmental Knowledge.

"The proximity to Perth of the Avon Valley, its natural beauty, unique Noongar and early colonial heritage, well-developed local tourism product and clear skies are all reasons for visitor numbers to grow over the next decade," he said.

In the latest statistics, for the nine months since the centre opened its doors in August 2018, approximately 5000 people had visited the Bilya Koort Boodja Centre.

Of those, 30 per cent had paid the entry fee to view the interpretive space.

A breakdown of the data reveals 50 per cent of visitors lived within the Shire of Northam, 33 per cent lived outside the Shire of Northam, seven per cent were overseas visitors and the remaining 10 per cent were interstate visitors.

Have an opinion on what local governments can do to turn their towns into tourism hot-spots? Send a letter to the editor to eliza.wynn@fairfaxmedia.com.au.