LONG reliant on agriculture, the cities of the Central West are reinventing themselves as tourist hot spots - and reaping the benefits. Regional journalist Sahil Makkar looks at how this relatively recent approach is boosting regional economies and providing a salve during the long-running drought.
Hoping for flood of visitors during drought
CENTRAL West councils Bathurst, Orange and Dubbo hope tourism can get money flowing as spending dries up during the long-running drought.
The councils say an increase in tourists in the recent past has provided much-needed help to businesses affected by the dry.
"Tourism is one industry that can help sustain our community as it is ravaged by this once-in-a-generation dry spell," Dubbo mayor Ben Shields said.
"While our farmers and the agriculture industry are doing it particularly tough, we know visitors can help to sustain other businesses such as retailers, pubs, clubs, cafes and entertainment venues.
"When locals don't have the money to spend at these places, the hope is that tourists can come in and boost the economy and support those businesses."
When locals don't have the money to spend at these places, the hope is that tourists can come in and boost the economy and support those businessesDubbo mayor Ben Shields
Data showed that tourists spent $326 million in the Dubbo region, $241 million in Orange and $202 million in Bathurst in 2017.
Councils have realised the potential of tourism and are making large-scale efforts to bring domestic and international visitors to the region.
Bathurst Regional Council is preparing a new plan to look at tourism.
"Council has recently begun preparation for a new Destination Management Plan to guide future activity in the region," Bathurst mayor Graeme Hanger said.
"Recent upgrades to the award-winning Bathurst Visitor Information Centre will be followed up with additional improvements to drive visitors to the facility.
"The next three months will also feature a targeted digital marketing campaign and promotion of a new Bathurst 'Step Beyond' app including signature tours narrated by Craig Lowndes and Grant Denyer."
The next three months will also feature a targeted digital marketing campaign and promotion of a new Bathurst 'Step Beyond' app including signature tours narrated by Craig Lowndes and Grant DenyerBathurst mayor Graeme Hanger
Bathurst Regional Council says the combined economic impact of council events over the last three years, including the Bathurst Cycling Classic, Penrith Panthers matches at Carrington Park and Winter Festival, have generated more than $12.2 million for the local economy.
Council is working with community and specialist groups in promoting events such as the Spring Spectacular and Bathurst Heritage Trades Trail.
Orange mayor Reg Kidd says tourism is a crucial element of Orange's growing business economy.
"Over the last 12 months, the development of a new agency, called Orange360, to manage tourism for the region is a significant new direction for our approach," Cr Kidd said.
"While Orange’s tourism marketing continues to focus on the city’s established reputation for food and wine, in the future we’ll also be putting a greater emphasis on attracting people who come to Orange to attend a broader range of events, such as key sporting tournaments.
Dubbo mayor Cr Shields said Dubbo is lucky to have an attraction that is internationally renowned in Taronga Western Plains Zoo, which draws approximately 250,000 visitors to the region every year.
"There is much more to Dubbo and one of the challenges faced by the council is convincing potential tourists there is more to the city and the region," Cr Shields said.
"Council will expand its role and work to connect stakeholders within the Dubbo region.
"Council will also look to ramp up its marketing and campaigns to play a greater role in attracting people to Dubbo. Our economic development team is constantly looking at new ways to market the region."
Region's tourists opening wallets
The Central West has emerged as a popular destination among domestic and international visitors in the past few years thanks to its picturesque landscape and full calendar of events.
Data from Tourism Research Australia showed that major events and destinations such as the Bathurst 1000, the Parkes Elvis Festival, Orange FOOD Week, the Banjo Paterson Festival and Taronga Western Plains Zoo have resulted in a 13 per cent increase in total visitor nights in the region for the year ending September 2018.
Visitors spent a record $1.1 billion during their stay in the region - a 16 per cent increase on 2017.
The average expenditure per visitor per night also increased, growing from $139 to $142 in the space of 12 months.
Among the three major councils in the Central West, Dubbo seemed to have benefited the most in terms of the number of visitors, nights and amount spent.
About 1.1 million visitors stayed 1.5m nights and spent $326 million in Dubbo in 2017, compared with 985,000 visitors who spent one million nights in Orange.
Visitors in Orange spent $241m in total. The average spend in Orange per trip and per night were $244 and $156.
The average spend per trip and per night in Dubbo were $276 and $147.
Bathurst had 902,000 visitors who stayed 980,000 nights in 2017. Their average spend per trip and per night were $224 and $137.
Caddie Marshall, general manager of Orange360, said the agency was taking an all-year-round approach.
"We want people to be able to come and visit our region across all the four distinct seasons. And we want them to be able to come out on any given day and experience our region," Ms Marshall said.
"We are working on the second [Orange] Winter Fire Festival and have appointed a new festival manager."
Ms Marshall said the Winter Fire Festival is a celebration of their lifestyle and the city is inviting people to come out and enjoy a winter in Orange.
"We are running a major campaign that will go to market in May. [It is] aimed at inviting a younger demographic," she said.
"We certainly want to continue to grow the traditional market, which tends to be slightly older demographics.
"This time we are being very specific about inviting the 28 years to 34 years old market to come out and enjoy. They tend to have a bit more disposable income before they have children."
Treasures in and around Bathurst
Mount Panorama: It's an iconic landmark for Bathurst and home to the Bathurst 1000 motor race and the Bathurst 12-Hour in October and February, respectively.
National Motor Racing Museum: At the base of the famous Mount, the museum celebrates the cars and personalities of Australian motor sports.
Carillon and Kings Parade: Photo opportunities abound in the city's CBD, where the imposing War Memorial Carillon and court house dominate their surroundings.
Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum: The building has 2000 fossil and mineral specimens.
Chifley Home: The modest home in Bathurst's south provides an insight into the life of one of the city's proudest sons, former prime minister and railway worker Ben Chifley.
Macquarie River: Walking tracks follow the meandering Macquarie as it makes its way through the city.
Abercrombie House: The grand district icon was built in the 1870s by Bathurst pioneers the Stewart family. It's been the Morgan family's home since 1969.
Millthorpe: The historic town between Bathurst and Orange has elegant places to stay, acclaimed restaurants and cool-climate wineries nearby.
Upcoming events in and around Bathurst
March 22-29: Bathurst Gold Crown Carnival 2019
March 30: Penrith Panthers versus Melbourne Storm in the third round of the NRL
April 5-7: Newton's Nation
April 19-22: Hi-Tec Oils Bathurst Six Hour
April 28: Bathurst Half Marathon and 10KM
June 5: Bathurst Bridal Expo
June 16: Winter Winery Wander