Addressing tourism issues on Kangaroo Island

ISLAND VISITORS: Busy day on the water at Penneshaw on February 20, 2019 with the Sealion 2000 SeaLink ferry, Pacific Eden cruise ship and One and All tall ship all visiting. Photo: Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari
ISLAND VISITORS: Busy day on the water at Penneshaw on February 20, 2019 with the Sealion 2000 SeaLink ferry, Pacific Eden cruise ship and One and All tall ship all visiting. Photo: Kangaroo Island Ocean Safari

Tourism on Kangaroo Island has its issues at the moment, what with the closure of the Visitor Information Centre juxtaposed against increasing cruise ship visitation.

Tourism KI and the KI Food and Wine Association recently voted to merge into a single entity to refocus efforts on meeting visitor demands.

South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive Rodney Harrex spoke at the council's April informal gathering.

Regarding whether the State Government could come to the party to assist the reopen of the visitor information centre at Penneshaw, he said the Island was already receiving a level of assistance.

"The SATC is constantly on the look out for ways to enhance visitor experiences - contributing $46,818 to Tourism Kangaroo Island this financial year as part of a multi year agreement," Mr Harrex said.

"The SATC has recently installed free Wi-Fi services at American River and Kingscote, allowing guests to make the most of their time in Kangaroo Island, to locate local businesses and share their experiences online and in real-time."

He spoke about the declining importance of physical visitor information centres and rise of digital/online marketing.

"Technology is transforming tourism with 80 per cent of visitors accessing information online once they arrive at a destination," Mr Harrex said. "With this in mind, it is smart to review the delivery of information services."

Kangaroo Island achieved a major milestone last season, attracting a record 26 cruise ship visits - up 27 per cent, although that number is set to decline slightly for the 2019/2020 season.

There have been calls for the KI Council to charge cruise ship passengers a levy to help defray costs, possibly even helping to reopen the visitor information centre.

One sticking point has been that that State transport and infrastructure department owns the Penneshaw wharf, where the cruise ship tenders drop off passengers.

Mr Harrex however said there were no levies charged by any council in South Australia to support cruise visits.

"Tourism is important for our regional economies, making it critical that we continue to attract a growing share of the global cruise market," he said.

"From an independent study undertaken we know that 50 per cent of domestic and 30 per cent of international visitors have indicated that they intent to come back to Kangaroo Island following their cruise ship visit.

"Cruise ship visits are also an ideal way to promote our State and encourage visitors to capture their experiences on social media.

"The South Australian Tourism Commission fully funds cruise ship meet and greet service at Penneshaw, the cost to the South Australian Tourism Commission is $148,000 per annum to ensure cruise visitors are provided the right experience of a great South Australian icon."

Some of have said the bulk of the $8 million spent by cruise ship visitors goes directly to SeaLink and a handful of tour operators, as well as the Department for Environment and Water that operates Seal Bay and Flinders Chase.

Mr Harrex said the benefits were much wider.

"Cruise ships deliver $8.6 million directly to Kangaroo Island. That's $8.6 million that went straight into the back pockets of our hard-working local tourism operators and other businesses across the Island," he said.

"Cruise ship visits are a great catalyst for employment in regional South Australia and Kangaroo Island.

"The past cruise ship season saw 10,702 cruise visitors pre-book a tour before arriving at Kangaroo Island, which equates to a cruise visitor touring take up of 29 per cent for the season."

Visitor centre focus, cruise ship deputation

KI Mayor Michael Pengilly welcomed Mr Harrex speaking to the council, as he was able to clarify several points.

SATC would rather local government focus on providing tourism infrastructure than running visitor information centres, he said.

Reopening the visitor centre at Penneshaw however remained a top priority for the council, as was driving more visitor traffic through the new airport, he said.

The mayor and several other councillors, along with other volunteers, helped man the Penneshaw business centre where some of the tourism material was relocated over the Easter long weekend.

But now he said the aim was to reopen the centre by the end of the winter.

Commissioner for KI, Wendy Campana has announced she has granted $10,000 to TKI to prepare an options paper regarding the visitor information centre and to engage with the council in its preparation.

But Mr Pengilly said what was really needed was action.

His own personal view was given the low-population and difficulty in securing volunteers, as is done at Victor Harbor and Yankalilla, that perhaps the solution for KI was to put out an expression of interest for a private business to locate in the council owned visitor centre building offering visitor information services as part of its business.

Concerned KI resident Sara Hourez meanwhile continues her mission look at the cost and benefits of increased cruise ship visitations, including the impact on tourism venues such as Seal Bay, health services and council amenities.

She is due to speak at the next informal gathering of the KI Council about the responses or lack of responses she got from 36 letters sent out to various government departments and tourism businesses.

"We are a boutique destination, not like anywhere else but slowly we are becoming like everywhere else," she said.

"Our reputation will suffer. We provide a rare experience, getting rarer. Our reputation is our future.

"My prediction is that within five years we, as a community, will be feeling the economic effects of the cruise ship industry and we will be saying to each other, 'Why didn't we see this coming?'."

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