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Byron Shire
May 15, 2021

Where next for Byron Shire tourism?

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David Lowe

The recent release of region by region statistics from Tourism Research Australia has sparked a flurry of responses from local stakeholders in the industry.

David Jones, President of Destination Byron, welcomes more data and science being added to the discussion. He says there are two very different tourism stories in the Shire, with 1.1 million day visitors and 1.1 million overnight visitors. ‘One thing that most folk in the town don’t comprehend is that 50 per cent of all visitors to our region are not staying overnight. That’s a phenomenal statistic,’ he said.

‘The science shows that people who visit for a day will stay overnight in the future, but realistically Byron has a strong over-reliance on what we call the short stay leisure market, and that’s one of the biggest Achilles heels of this town,’ said Jones. 

‘We’ve become a weekender destination for Sydney and southeast Queensland. The Melbourne market might stay three or four nights, but realistically we’ve not diversified into much longer-staying guests. Mid-week in the cooler months it’s very quiet. We’re far from being an over-touristed destination.’

While hotel room numbers have remained fairly static, one change which has been confirmed by the new figures is the proliferation of short-term holiday rentals.

Loss of community

Former local member and mayor Jan Barham says her biggest concern is the loss of community. ‘We’ve got 2,500 entire houses being used for Airbnb, which means we’ve got about 6,000 residents displaced. We’re losing residents and getting commercial activities in residential zones, and losing the vital resource of people who live here and contribute to our community.’

Local Sustainability Consultant Alison Drover believes ‘business needs to profit from tourism, it is our income, but it’s a symbiotic relationship. We need management plans. You don’t need a cap but there need to be decisions around areas [and how they’re protected].’

Nature’s gold

She says there has to be more emphasis in government spending on protecting natural wonders and less on the built environment.

‘The real demand across the globe is actually nature. That’s gold. And ironically it seems to be in Byron that the least amount of effort is spent on protecting what we have and making management plans around it.’

Drover uses the allegory of an art gallery when discussing the need to safeguard the natural gems of the region. ‘You have the Mona Lisa and she’s behind glass, and there’s other areas of the gallery where you can look and interact. We need to decide which areas of this Shire and region are like Mona Lisa, and which areas we want to design walking trails for and decide how people are going to interact, because at the moment people are just trashing the place.’

Everyone agrees that there’s room for improvement in the marketing of Byron Bay as a tourist destination.

‘We’ve been trading on free living, campervan images of hippies living free, and that is costing us the earth, it is costing us Byron at the moment,’ said Ms Drover.

Why people come

Jan Barham says, ‘Council is doing a review of its Tourism Management Plan, but what they’re failing to do is look at the real attractors. Why do people come here? What is it that they come here for? And what’s our responsibility to protect that asset which is the attractor?’

‘Byron’s very much an insider destination,’ says David Jones. ‘It’s not marketed abroad, it’s not brochured. It doesn’t have a destination marketing plan. It doesn’t promote itself to anyone actually – it’s one of few destinations in Australia that doesn’t do that. It’s done it once with limited success. The demand that Byron gets is very much organic and perennial, and generational.’

He continues: ‘The mentality of a lot of people needs to change, if Byron’s going to maintain a sustainable and responsible visitor economy. A lot of local opinion is not based on any stats, it’s just conjecture, and that’s actually one of the biggest problems with Byron progressing and achieving something really beautiful and sustainable.’

Jan Barham’s history includes years on the regional and state tourism boards. ‘I see that we’ve lost our way in terms of understanding the real value of Byron in the overall tourism market,’ she said. ‘ Byron’s iconic status is because people love nature, they love the low scale. People resonate with it because it’s not like the rest of the world.’

Alison Drover believes ‘we could create a “protect and respect” marketing campaign that leverages the power of the brands that we have,to carry those messages. I think it would really make a difference.’

Future: not more development

In spite of the challenges ahead, Byron Bay’s activist history, and the passionate love of residents and visitors for its natural beauty and community potentially means that the holy grail of a sustainable and profitable tourism industry has a better chance of succeeding here than just about anywhere.

‘That’s the end-game right there,’ says David Jones. ‘It’s not more development, it’s not more visitors, it’s just refining the type of experience we offer and embrace, and its impact on the environment and the locals, that’s it.’

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  1. The concerns here argue to encourage low impact walking and cycling based tourism. Ballina attracts families and other visitors to enjoy its mixed use paths. Investment by government and Byron and other local shires can make our area a prime destination for active touring. It does not bring the traffic of other tourism and few of the issues of party tourism,. While people cycle year round, it is likely to be most popular in the cooler months, complementing the busy summer season.
    Ensuring timely progress with building our rail trail is a key part of encouraging walkers and cycling, but investing in other parts of the Shire’s new cycling plan is important too.

  2. Get the Rail Trail built. Cashed up visitors will come in droves and spend multiple nights in the hinterland villages instead of clogging Byron township.

    Unfortunately the undeniably crazy Byron Council has delayed the project by conflating it with a bizarre notion of running expensive minibuses on the old railway line. The more than $200,000 they spent on the ridiculous Arcadis report could have funded the business case for the Byron Rail Trail and applications for millions of dollars in government funding would be getting processed now.

    Instead, Byron is in serious danger of missing out entirely on a share of the funds the NSW government has made available for regional development projects through asset selloffs.

  3. Simple answer, cap tourism. Noosa is trying to do it, Hyams Beach have done it. Byron already makes plenty of money off tourism, and plenty of that money goes to non-locals. As a longtime resident and ratepayer when do we get to say enough is enough? Traffic lineups, illegal camping everywhere, dance party’s trashing national parks and on top of that developers and trusts from all over Australia coming to town to make money off the place. Now our council wants to speed up development? I still find it hard to believe an area known for socially progressive views and environmental activism has allowed money to take over. Now instead we seem to have to listen to little weasels like David Jones who belong on the Gold Coast.

  4. “Mid week in the cooler months it’s very quite. We’re far from being an over-touristed destination.”
    Nice one David. I am sure that everybody in the Bay would like to see tourism ramped up to full capacity over the cooler months. Lets get some promotions happening so that Byron is full to capacity all year round.!

  5. I believe natue is key to Byron keeping its flavour.The problem is simple and its global and that is riseing populations.Introduce a tole some how and if you stay a night you dont pay the tole.Day visitors pay $5.00 which will reduce road use and increase tourism and reduce day visitors and fund road inferstucture.


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