Echuca Moama Tourism council funding cloud clears

By Lachlan Durling

CAMPASPE Shire Council has said the muddy waters that were the previous agreements with the Echuca Moama and District Tourism Association are now clear after councillors approved two agreements with the organisation.

Council’s contribution to funding for the association became a bone of contention between councillors at the October meeting after the association hadn’t been paid for prior invoices to the tune of about $160,000.

It also became the subject of multiple social media videos by councillor Leigh Wilson who expressed concern that council was making a decision “outside of policy or strategy” by agreeing to continue previous service level agreements with the association.

Despite the outstanding balance, the association continued operations as usual in good faith before council agreed to backpay the association while future agreements for the delivery of visitor information services and marketing the region were decided.

But the item was still contentious for Cr Wilson who expressed his concern over the level of accountability for the association which is receiving $324,000 this financial year.

“For the broader community and certainly for my ward I do not think this is a fair deal,” Cr Wilson said.

“There is only a minimum requirement of $9000 to be spent on marketing the regions and small towns across Campaspe.

“Now I’m aware EMDTA spent in excess of that but I would be far more confident if there was a greater mandate for a larger portion of these funds being spent to promote those communities that have, whether happily or not, contributed to maintaining EMDTA’s ability to operate a service.”

EMDTA is a membership-based organisation with funding received through multiple providers including Campaspe Shire.

“This has been a long-standing practice we have had with EMDTA to deliver the services of managing the Visitor Information Centre and contributing to the marketing of region,” Cr Vicki Neele said.

“The organisation has done an excellent job and has a good reputation – our region of the Murray is one of the better performing areas.

“It’s a fairly sizeable sum we are contributing but it is for a seven day-a-week service from 9am-5pm and has a hefty marketing budget of which we only supply a fraction, we are working with the rest of our community to service the whole of the shire.”

Despite the opposition from Cr Wilson, mayor Adrian Weston said council’s resolution has gone far enough to address concerns.

“It became apparent that the former SLAs were unclear in some areas and subject to misinterpretation. The new SLAs have been developed to be more specific and measurable,” Cr Weston said.

“These more defined reporting requirements will make it easier to evaluate outcomes, remove any ambiguity in service delivery levels and provide more certainty for both EMDTA and council going forward.”

The requirements within the new agreements include:

● Validation that at least 10 per cent of council’s financial contribution towards marketing is spent on promoting towns, events and attractions outside of Echuca-Moama;

● EMTDA to support not for profit businesses, community groups, fundraisers and list services in townships across the municipality;

● Council to be responsible for ensuring funds for both visitor servicing and destination marketing is used to benefit the whole community;

● A generic survey will be created annually by Campaspe Shire in collaboration with EMDTA to allow for a ‘pulse check’ of the sector;

● Streamlined reporting guidelines to include activity details and related spend by EMDTA;

● Reports from EMDTA are to contain specific, measurable, realistic and timely key performance indicators;

● Cost breakdowns to be more specific and include all revenue contributed by other participants to provide a true cost to EMDTA and;

● Annual EMDTA business and marketing plans with proposed budgets will be made available.

Council’s financial contribution to EMDTA for the 2019 – 2020 financial year is approximately: $89,000 for destination marketing (plus GST) and $235,000 for visitor servicing (plus GST).

Both the destination marketing and visitor services agreements are for three years, until June 30, 2022.