When Brett Ince returned to Geelong a year ago to take on the role of Executive Director for Tourism Greater Geelong and The Bellarine (TGGB), it’s unlikely he had dealing with a global pandemic on his agenda. When we first spoke about an interview, Brett had just completed a planning day and was keen to speak about new directions for tourism in the region.
By the time we managed to catch up, COVID-19 had arrived, borders were closed, our catch-up was over Zoom and Stage 3 Restrictions were in place.
“The focus for the organisation has been supporting its members through this period,” says Brett. “We have been reaching out to all of our 600 members, providing one-on-one support, checking in to see how they are, if we can answer any questions or assist them with applying for the support packages which are available.”
All of the staff working at TGGB took to the phones to contact their members’ businesses in the region, with Brett congratulating the work of the dedicated membership team who took the bulk of the calls.
The Board also made the decision to look at measures to provide funds back to members over the next three months, deciding to offer free membership for the remainder of 2020.
Free membership applies to both existing and new businesses.
“The Board decided that businesses have given to us, and this is a time when we can give back to them.
“This is an effort to encourage every Greater Geelong and Bellarine business to subscribe. We can provide them with access to a range of professional services and updates to help them through the pandemic and its impact.”
TGGB is also running online training and blogs, targeted at assisting businesses on the road to recovery.
Brett said that while the immediate focus is on providing relief for businesses, TGGB is also working on the future for tourism in the region, what that could look like and how to best position the brand for the future.
The Geelong region hosts 6.4 million visitors each year. Half of those are the Visiting Family and Friends market.
“Without a doubt, the biggest tourism asset we have in the Geelong region are the people who live here.
“They are our greatest advocates and they have always encouraged people to visit here. When the time is right, our hope is that people will want to reconnect and Geelong will be well-placed for those important reunions.”
Brett said the region already had exceptional businesses catering for domestic short breaks, retreats and regional experiences, which will be the focus for tourism across Australia when the restrictions are relaxed, according to Tourism Australia.
One of the most important events where reconnections are made are weddings, which will see a boom following the pandemic.
“We need to support our wedding venues and event facilities, so we are positioned to cater for this market.”
There has also been a focus on encouraging business events organisers to postpone their conference or retreat rather than cancel. Brett encouraged the fast tracking of the region’s long-awaited convention and exhibition centre.
“The Geelong Convention and Exhibition Centre will be an absolute drawcard for the business events sector in future years to help the region recover.”
Another boost to post-COVID-19 tourism to Geelong has been the announcement from The Spirit of Tasmania operators that it is moving from Station Pier, Port Melbourne to Corio Quay, Geelong, in 2022.
The facility will provide parking, state-of-the-art boarding technology, comfortable & accessible passenger lounges, public amenities, a cafe, a children’s play area, and a pet exercise area.
“Connectivity and ease of access is a key advantage for our region. We are very well serviced by air, land and sea transport operators and we welcome the Spirit of Tasmania to our tourism community.”
Story: Deb Howcroft. Photo: supplied, of Brett and Karen (Novotel Geelong) at the Cadel Evans Bike Race.