The Viewpoint - Is tourism our only future?

Friday 18 March 2011

The Viewpoint - Is tourism our only future?


by Roy Weavers

As I write these words, I can feel the dissension building from our community because I’m daring to challenge the single minded thinking that we are and always will be a tourist town!

I see no reason to argue about that since, with a bit of luck and a fair wind (not a cyclonic one), we should do all in our power to keep tourism as an important part of our region's economy. 

However, I would like to stress the word 'part' and that is the centre of my piece I hereby submit for your consideration.

Sometimes it pays to think outside the box. I wish there was another expression to illustrate my point 'cos I hate that box! But maybe I can give you an example of where my thinking could take us.

Towards the end of his career my father was promoted to Chairman of the company for which he had worked for over 40 years. You could be forgiven for thinking that such a long term servant would have therefore been a bit of a traditionalist.  You know the sort of thing, "We've always done things this way".  Well you'd be wrong with that assumption. 

His first action on stepping into the hot seat was to organise a sales meeting to include the entire sales force.

In his early research into the state of the company, he had identified that, although the company had hundreds of customers and was very sound and successful, there was actually one client who was so huge that the company was almost totally dependent on their business.

My father cautioned that this was a dangerous position since this client had so much power that whatever happened to them filtered right through my father’s organisation.
If this top customer was buoyant then so was Dad's company.  If times changed and the business was struggling then so was my Dad.

His solution was simple as most great ones are. 

Just to complete the picture, perhaps I should mention that his company made beds, so they had great experience in mass production and bespoke manufacturing.  But nevertheless, they just made beds!

Therefore at his sales meeting he charged his sales team with finding nine more clients as big as the existing one they already had in the bag!

He made it clear he didn't want to lose any business from the existing client, he just wanted to make their influence less.

Subsequently from being a bedding company, he expanded, or should I say he diversified, the business to making occasional tables, bedside furniture, wooden garden chairs and tables, and a new range of children’s bedroom furniture.  The genius of this idea was that it was all done utilising the same facilities that were already to hand.

It was so successful that they did in fact open up a new metal works to produce wrought iron decorated items, which were all the rage back in the 70s but overall everything was achieved from in-house.

Subsequently the once, 'we only make beds', company and it's work force grew dramatically and expanded over the course of the next five years to such a degree that over and above the small metal works he’d already opened, a brand new factory was built to assist in consolidating the success. 

This factory was built in the Midlands of England where employment was scarce because of the death of coal mining and steel production but the forward thinking local council had such a phenomenal corporate inducement package for new businesses that it was an irresistible deal. 

Although they kept the London factory going, many of the staff from London opted to relocate to a much nicer country location where the pressures and pace of life were far less strenuous, so everyone benefitted.

I would suggest that this is the future for the Douglas Region, no, not making furniture, although that’s not a bad idea.

The future is 'diversification' and in a similar fashion to the UK it can be achieved, with the help of our own local Cairns Regional Council and the Queensland State Government.  In fact Cairns Regional Council have already made progress on this subject by appointing Fiona Wilson as Economic Development Manager, so there is hope on the horizon.

We already have an infrastructure of tourism in place but it's not travelling well at the moment because of many outside influences, some natural and some man-made.

Our dilemma is that tourism is basically our only industry and therefore its adverse influence is hurting the area very badly because we've got no alternatives.

I can hear you saying, stop waffling and tell us, 'What is the solution to this problem?'.........Well, the answer is actually anything you like!

If we could get the Council and the State Government to assist this region by making it an especially zoned commercial relocation area or whatever fancy title you want, then we could entice Head or Admin Offices of suitable big businesses and/or (clean) manufacturing plants to come to this idyllic part of the world and set up shop here. 

These companies win in all ways.  Their staff get an incredible place to live and prosper and their businesses get an economic base to strengthen their ‘bottom lines’. 

Before everyone goes up in arms, I'm not talking about dirty manufacturing, although goodness knows we've lived with them for long enough. We've had cement works and sugar mills here for an awful long time without too much grief.

No, I'm talking about something along the lines of a Silicon Valley style community or simply administrative centres for Southern or International corporations.  Let’s face it with modern technology it doesn't matter where you're offices are located.

We have an newly improved, under utilised international airport, a road structure that's being updated as we speak, telecommunications as good as anywhere in Australia and a wonderful climate and yes I'm including the summer rains.  Our building standards now cater for any other extreme weather that we may experience so future construction on the designated industrial estates present no problems for any companies considering re-location.

So this is my solution.  Bring enough new business to our area and tourism has a less overpowering influence on our destiny.

We already have industrial areas zoned and lying dormant out at Craiglie, Mossman and in Port's Warner Street CBD so everything is set up eh?

Again I would stress that this is not a challenge to the tourism industry.  In fact the tour operators would benefit from this scheme because the new work forces arriving with the variety of these new businesses would probably have two and three year tours of duty so the resident population would be forever changing.  This would  refresh the interest in our World Heritage wonderlands as each team arrives.

We keep spending millions, and I mean millions of dollars on trying to prop up and regenerate our tourism industry and the results doggedly remain in the negative column.

Why not re-allocate some or preferably all of that money to encouraging a whole range of business to relocate to the far north with tax breaks and rate options.  This has an added advantage in that it’s not actually cash that has to be found, it’s a reduced short term income discount.  But in the long run after the initial incentives run their course, it increases the income pool.

It seems to me we would win in all ways. Less dependence on tourism but no harm done to it.  More jobs and more opportunities for the resident population using already designated industrial areas so no extra bureaucracy.  Renewed interest in the reef and the rainforest with resident fresh blood, new ideas and less dependence on a tourist industry that has the will but currently not the way to support us all.

In no time we'd have my Dad's ten diversified clients and if at any time one or two of them are not at the peak of their game, they don’t have the individual power to destroy our area the way our weak tourism market is doing at the moment.

I have a draft strategic plan ready for discussion.  It will, without doubt, need refining and discussing and adding to, but it's a start.  Anyone who wants to chat it through with me is more than welcome. 

It's not that scary, it just doesn't often include the word 'tourism'!