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Byron Shire
August 14, 2022

Byron’s future ‘reading’ for tourism and visitation

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Byron’s 2022 Tourism Symposium. Photo supplied

Destination Byron’s 2022 Tourism Symposium hosted at Elements of Byron 29 June had some ominous predictions. Board member and host, David Jones certainly shuffled the cards well.

Looking into the crystal ball, Ballina Byron Airport cited bookings as significantly down for this quarter. Whilst this was attributed to people preferring to travel overseas, we are down compared to other regions, raising questions about the health of our visitor economy.

Simon Kuestenmacher, headline presenter, and a statistical magician from The Demographics Group, cited new Australian Bureau of Statistics figures on key demographic forces affecting our region’s livability, employment opportunities and visitor economy. Simon had The Death Card raised upright, indicating business will be consumed with the job of acquiring and accommodating staff. There will be significant shortfalls and challenges for some years. His major take home for business was to target the high-end visitor, given the economic forces.

Mayor Micheal Lyon, had the Tower Card over short-term holiday letting, holding with the Sword upright for community housing, citing his win, with the recent approval of capping short-term holiday lets to 90 days, freeing up (as he claimed) 1500 properties for rental. 

Colin Hussey from A Perfect Stay held the Justice Card, waving a magical wand over short-term holiday letting stating these ‘stays’ meet the needs of large families, and dogs, on holidays to Byron. His persuasion was that reducing the numbers of short-term holiday lets was not going to solve the affordable housing crisis. 

Alison Drover on the panel at Byron’s 2022 Tourism Symposium. Photo supplied

I seem to have held the Devil Card upright as panel spokesperson for Environment, Wellbeing and Climate Change.

The tourism prediction to follow is about nature and wellness. This isn’t just a glam place to stay, have massages and Insta green smoothies, rather than deeper connections with nature, wellbeing and purpose-based holidays. 

Not-for profit, Global Wellness Institute agrees that wellness travel will be the sector clocking the fastest growth to 2025, expanding 21 per cent each year to reach $1.1 trillion. This research speaks of an era of new traveller values (a quest for nature, sustainability and mental wellness) as well as a period of rapid recovery from serious pent up demand, not just for travel but also for serious healing.

Climate change will continue to challenge

Whilst Byron may claim it’s been doing ‘Well’ for years, her healthy glow appears to be dimming. Byron struggles financially as its visitors surpasses its local resident population, however, we are bypassing much needed revenue from our visitation and our community, owing to a reliance on physical resources, complex land management stakeholder jurisdictions and poor process and design. 

Metres down from Main Beach, during a Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony celebrating NAIDOC Week, five dogs ran illegally on a beach amidst birds struggling to nest in damaged dunes. Dumping is frequent, and spear fishermen and trawlers are regularly seen in marine parks. There are doofs and fires in fragile and culturally sensitive areas. Campers stay for free, leaving rubbish and refuse in the car parks and waterways.

In my reading I see The World Card, Queen of Cups; positive possibility. It will take some compromise, co-creating, and legal rewriting at a State level, and locally. And collaboration between authorities. 

I see more intelligent, artful, interpretive education signage with storytelling regarding nature and Indigenous culture to connect our walkways. I see less development and more world-class examples of affordable housing and architecture using innovative sustainable materials and eco hotels that are designed to heal you and regenerate the environment. Airbnbs being required to contribute to Council fees, capped and managed by Airbnb. Communal spaces that are clean, safe, well lit and renewably powered – with dogs on leads. Compliance managed by SMART parking, ensuring 100 per cent return to our community and deterring all day illegal camping in car spots that are needed by our community and visitors. New affordable overnight ‘Park Up’ stations that provide basic public amenities, waste recycling, and charging stations for campervans. Byron becoming synonymous with ethical and sustainable weddings and events. Hotel stays that teach you to live in harmony with nature, to compost, and keep bees. 

I see nature areas zoned so that people can enjoy silent ‘forest bathing’ and technology defragging. Interpretive and storytelling signage like the Yarra River’s listening stations – connecting people and place. I see rangers stations onsite to assist with resourcing and ensure environmental protection, solving staffing issues. I see more koalas in trees, not on roads. Visitors volunteering as bush regenerators. Green Star rated ecotourism hotels. I see locals who are proud of their town, not as bystanders. 

This future is good, as this type of purpose-driven tourism will align with the job-seeking Gen Y and Z who are looking to change the world of Simon’s demographic stats. Nature and ‘wellness’ economically can help address one of the largest challenges the world will face: mental illness. This provides an economic case for conservation. The Chinese term for this health services value is jing hua ling: psychological de-stressing. This is a new case for State funding. 

There is much to do. Even electric bikes need a plan! 

I am praying for ‘good change’ nature and wellbeing to drive our visitation model and for Byron to take charge of its destiny. I hope others follow suit, although according to the ABS, Byron is the most atheist place in Australia! At least tick ‘Animist’ in the next census, Byron. 

♦ Alison Drover is an environmental strategist, business change agent and local nature spirit. Alison presented on nature and wellbeing at the 2022 Destination Byron Tourism Symposium, hosted by Elements of Byron.

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