Council’s Engagement Program wins prestigious award

The Talking Future Tourism engagement program undertaken to inform Byron Shire Council’s Sustainable Visitation Strategy has been named the winner of a Highly Commended award for Culture Change, Innovation and Excellence at the prestigious and coveted Local Government NSW Awards.

Byron Shire Mayor, Simon Richardson, said it was well-deserved recognition for an extensive body of work which aims to put the community at the centre of the local tourism industry.

“This project is a great example of how we have undertaken a culture shift in how we connect and listen to our community.

“We believe that true engagement and consultation means going beyond just a town hall meeting and listening to our active residents, however valuable their views, but actively seeking the views of those more reticent to share them.

“And boy, we did this brilliantly with more than 1,500 responses from the community, industry and visitors; 1,200 people taking part in kitchen table conversations and a panel of 26 randomly selected people spending three days deliberating the question “what actions can Council take to align visitor behaviour with community values”?

“To say our staff went above and beyond with their engagement for this project is an absolute understatement,” Mayor Richardson said.

“All of the contributions were used to develop a Sustainable Visitation Strategy that aims to support a visitor economy that cares for and respects our residents, protects our natural environment, celebrates our cultural diversity and shares our local values,” he said.

“Just as the SVS was in the process of being adopted the COVID-19 pandemic hit and suddenly we found ourselves in the bizarre situation of telling people to stay away from Byron Shire,” Mayor Richardson said.

“COVID-19 has been a very big reality check of how important the sector is to our local economy,” he said.

“With the tourism sector in a holding pattern at the moment, so too is the SVS,” Mayor Richardson said.

In 2019 tourism contributed $927 million to the Byron Shire economy and was the largest employer with around 4,400 jobs.

From March – June 2020 there was a 40-100% downturn in businesses in the Byron Shire, with a 16.6% reduction in the economy and the predicted loss of at least 1,600 jobs, not including those supported by Job Keeper.

“To take into account the disruption to the local tourism industry as a result of COVID-19, staff will now be preparing a discussion paper on resilience and recovery which will be reported to Council by the end of this year,” Mayor Richardson said.

“In the meantime, I again reiterate my congratulations to the staff involved in the development of the SVS, for one of the most comprehensive project engagements that we have undertaken and their efforts are very deserving of the award for Culture Change, Innovation and Excellence – well done,” Mayor Richardson said.

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