Tourism KI, council work toward visitor centre solution

Tourism Kangaroo Island held a networking session on Thursday evening to give members a progress report on efforts to reopen the Island's visitor information centre.

The mayor and acting CEO at the meeting pledged to continue working toward both a short-term solution to reopen the centre before Easter and also a longer-term funding solution.

This follows a meeting between TKI board members and KI Council on Wednesday where ways forward were discussed.

TKI chairman Pierre Gregor however informed the members present that if no solution was reached, the board would have no option than to shut the centre permanently.

Mayor Michael Pengilly acknowledged the work that Mr Gregor and TKI had done to keep the centre going, but that the council was trying to be fiscally responsible and was looking to make $1.5 million in savings in the next budget. 

He also said he had approached both the State Tourism Minister and the head of the South Australian Tourism Commission and neither was willing to come to the party with funding.

Mr Pengilly said he had scheduled a special session with councillors and staff on Tuesday morning before April's council meeting to discuss further possible solutions.

"We have got to have the visitor centre open and are determined to have it open by Easter and we are looking at various options as how to get there," Mr Pengilly said.

The acting council CEO Greg Georgopoulos also said he was hopeful a solution could be reached.

"We are committed to finding a solution," he said. "We are not going to leave the visitor information centre high and dry. We are working toward both a short-term solution to get it open again and a long-term sustainable solution."

Mr Gregor was asked why the situation had been allowed to get to the point of the centre closing, albeit temporarily, and he said it had been a long process with ongoing discussions.

And the resignation of visitor centre's two employees had brought the situation to a head, he said.

Questions were asked about volunteers taking over the centre, but members were informed this was not practical as some expertise was needed and volunteers were hard to find anyway.

Another option raised was to remove the retail element of the centre to simplify its operation. 

Allegations were made on social media and at Thursday's meeting that the Victor Harbour visitor centre had on one occasion not been able to answer queries about KI.

TKI has arranged for calls to be patched through to the Victor Harbor centre as a stop-gap measure.

TKI members were informed at the meeting that additional discussion with the Victor Harbor centre had taken place following the allegations and there was now a person dedicated to KI answering the calls.

All tourism operators and TKI members were also urged by TKI's tourism manager Kylie Bamfield to take on the role of informing visitors of what attractions there were on the Island.

Those present were also urged to contact Mr Gregor and board members directly rather than making allegations on social media.

Mr Gregor did say that he would have liked to see more of TKI's 185 members at the meeting. 

A 10-page background document was handed out listing the history of the visitor centre operations.

The document compared to KI to other regions finding that tourism made up 34 per cent of the Island's economy and employed 21 per cent of workers, no other region was in double figures.

Mr Gregor said that only two out of approximately 39 accredited visitor information centres did not receive direct or indirect support from local councils.

"78 per cent of these centres are owned and operated by councils and even where a commercial entity provides the information services the local contributes approximately $140,000 for this to occur," he said.

It has been pointed out that the council had made available the visitor centre building at Penneshaw free of charge and also did the maintenance on the building and cleaned the toilets.