Quokka selfies are good for tourism, but the WA Government wants a Vivid or Dark Mofo
The government is looking beyond Instagram feeds of celebrities like Margot Robbie to attract visitors to WA. (Instagram: Margot Robbie)
Who wouldn’t want a new home-grown major annual event in Perth that is alluring enough to attract tourists but also capable of winning over the hearts and minds of locals?
This week the Government revealed that’s what is being planned.
And the questions about what kind of event could possibly achieve that, how much would it cost, and was it another pipe dream have already started.
At this week’s launch of a two-year action plan to boost visitor numbers, WA’s tourism chiefs appeared keen to create hype about their planned new event, throwing around terms like “large-scale” and “signature event”.
But when quizzed by reporters they gave scant detail, including on how it would be funded.
The government wants to keep this home-grown
Don’t expect the government to fork out more taxpayers’ money to lure big events to Perth that are run by professional events companies.
“We do have another focus on creating an event that we own, that’s mass participation probably culturally-based, absolutely resonant in Western Australia that cannot be stolen, because when you buy into these other events you’re vulnerable,” Tourism Minister Paul Papalia said.
That vulnerability is because professional events companies have made an art form of playing Australian states off against each other as they engage in bidding wars to secure and keep popular events.
It is not uncommon for cities to spend considerable money securing an event, invest time and effort building it up and — just as its popularity starts to increase — the organisers up and leave when the term of a contractual deal comes to an end.
WA has not been immune.
A number of former tourism ministers and chiefs have experienced a public backlash when events have been lost or abandoned because of increased costs.
The Red Bull Air Race was a recent example where WA’s tourism chiefs decided not to bid to host it, saying increased costs meant it no longer represented value for money.
The Red Bull Air Race was one of the highlights of the Perth tourism calendar. (Veronica Buck: ABC)
For these reasons many in the tourism industry have long argued a home-grown event is a smarter approach because it gives WA’s tourism chiefs a level of ownership over an event.
And while those in the industry are excited about the prospect of such an event, they point out it is a promise that has been made before and not delivered.
But the tourism industry needs to see the money
Standing beside Mr Papalia this week as he launched the action plan, industry leaders including the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and WA Tourism Council (WATC) wasted no time pointing out that any such event would require considerable ongoing funding — something the WA Government has in short supply.
“It’s critical that that signature event is backed up with the right budget level,” AHA WA chief executive Bradley Woods said.
Funding aside, it is hard to imagine the kind of event that would not only attract tourists to Perth but also get West Australians off the couch and engaged.
But West Aussies have in the past proven their willingness to turn up to events in Perth if they like what is on offer.
Think of the hundreds of thousands who turned out to watch the Giants in 2015 and the tens of thousands who gathered on the Perth foreshore as part of a barbecue to mark a visit by Queen Elizabeth in 2011.
Calls for an event that highlights the best of Perth
“We don’t want to replicate or copy what any other state has done but if you look at how Vivid is projecting amazing images on what makes Sydney special to highlight what makes Sydney special that works really well, particularly from a tourism point of view,” Mr Harding said.
“What we need to do is have an event that again highlights what’s really unique and special about Perth in particular.”
Both Vivid and Dark Mofo are festival events that run over a number of days and have a strong art and music focus.
Tourism WA wants to kick off its new Perth-based event next year but with no budget allocation as yet, a relatively tough-to-please local audience and plenty of national competition for tourists it has a difficult job ahead.