Shopkeepers question future of tourism, economy

After a “disheartening” Christmas and New Year’s break for small business owners who remained open while most of Tumut’s CBD was closed, several shopkeepers have been questioning whether Snowy Valleys Council’s investment in tourism initiatives is being supported by the local hospitality industry.

The SVC financially supports several tourism initiatives, with a total allocation for Tourism and Area Development this year of $574,690.

Hansie Armour, owner of The Connection, travelled into Tumut from her home in Bookham to ensure The Abbey Footwear was open over the break. She reported numerous discussions with disappointed visitors, who were left scrambling for a hot meal and a place to unwind.

“Both New Year’s Day, but particularly Boxing Day … people were complaining to me how disappointed they were,” said Mrs Armour.

“When you’ve put so much effort and you’ve seen so much effort put into marketing – there’s been lots of money spent – and then there’s just a few people open and on Boxing Day, just myself and Harvey Norman, and to have lots of people in the main street looking for something to do and somewhere to have a nice meal … they’re disappointed and it makes you disappointed.”

The council’s current financial year Operational Plan includes just over half a million dollars for tourism activities, broken up into three main areas:

  • Ongoing management of visitor facilities, services and products – this includes operating the Visitor Information Centres, developing tourism product
  • Actively pursue opportunities to promote the region – this includes activities such as coordinating state and national media coverage, product use and promotion, advertising, social media management
  • Supporting and developing community and Council led events – providing financial and in-kind support to community events, running Council community events

The SVC also said that their ‘Place Activation staff’ are “dedicated to fulfilling the annual actions and also work in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife Services, Destination Riverina Murray and Destination NSW to promote, grow and support tourism and businesses in the region.”

Adding to the frustration, Mrs Armour said several visitors complained that public toilets were locked. She opened the toilets in The Connection, but felt stretched trying to act as a Covid Marshall at her toilets and still man her shop.

“It’s disheartening because you’re busy and you’ve got to watch out the back,” she said.

The Snowy Valleys Council initially told The Times that the toilets had been open throughout the break, but after review confirmed that the ammenities near Pie in the Sky were “inadvertently not opened as normal on the morning of December 27.”

An SVC spokesperson said council staff were alerted to the problem and the gates/doors were quickly unlocked to allow public access. 

SVC promised to “undertake a review of how we manage our services to ensure we can provide adequate facilities and services for locals and visitors.”

Mrs Armour said she’s had the same conversation with the council before and was proactive this time, taking the contact details of the customers who complained.

“Because we were told it wasn’t true at the October long weekend when we discussed it, I took the names of those two young people so we could contact them, so they know it’s true and we’re not lying,” she said.

The Times reached out to those contacts, but calls had not been returned by the time of publication.

“It becomes even more disheartening because your integrity is being questioned,” said Mrs Armour.

“You’re only having the interests of the community at heart. 

“The business community needs to realise that for the next ten years, our economic results are going to be based on building on tourism whilst we have our trees grow back.

“We have some responsibilities now to make some money and work as hard as we can to support the rest of the people who are recovering, and we’re the only ones that can do it. You can’t just grow trees quickly. That’s going to take ten years and the impact of that hasn’t been felt yet.”

Mrs Armour said the SVC will suffer economically over the next decade as the burnt areas of the State Forests are replanted.

“We’ve got ten years we’re going to have to be really careful and work really hard to sustain things. That’s the community responsibility. No government grants are going to make good on that when you’re wasting them,” she said.

“So you’ve got to work hard for a few years, so what? We can survive, but we can only survive together.”

Matt Lucas of The Coffee Pedaler was closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but otherwise remains open all year. He described being disappointed as a local business owner and as a ratepayer.

“We need to provide a better experience on those busy holiday periods because of the upcoming job losses [in the forestry industry],” said Mr Lucas.

“They’re not avoidable.”

Mr Lucas said he strongly supports the SVC’s investment in tourism, but believes small business owners should feel a greater obligation to provide the town with a return on the investment of their rate money.

Update: An earlier version of this article quoted the council as saying the toilets had been open over the break. The council updated their statement after review.