Hunter tourism rides out tough times

HUNTER tourism appears to be riding out global economic storms with modest but steady growth.

As Hunter tourism businesses prepare entries for the 2012 NSW Tourism Awards, visits to the region by domestic and international visitors are up, despite the high Australian dollar and downward pressure on spending.

Tourism Hunter marketing manager Jo Thomas said the present conditions were ‘‘difficult’’ but there was growth.

‘‘Domestic overnight visitation is up 4.7 per cent and international overnight visitation is up 3.1 per cent,’’ Ms Thomas said.

‘‘Domestic daytrip visitation is up 4per cent.’’

However, consumer spending was not rising, Ms Thomas said.

Today the Tourism Industry Council of NSW begins its five-day NSW Tourism in Focus campaign that aims to highlight regional destinations and the economic benefits of the sector.

Ms Thomas said the Hunter industry could expect similar growth rates for the next 12 months with at least another two years before there could be any substantial improvement.

Hunter Valley Wine Industry Association president and the owner of Margan Family Wines, Andrew Margan, said his Margan Restaurant had catered for a 10 per cent growth in patrons over the past year.

Market expectations must be met, he said.

‘‘Some of the [Hunter] offerings have been too expensive,’’ Mr Margan said.

‘‘People are very discerning.’’

Margan Restaurant won gold in the 2011 Hunter tourism awards and Mr Margan is entering again this year.

Marketing consultant Rebecca Smith, who is a judge at this year’s tourism awards, said Hunter tourism needed to increase its online presence.

‘‘Unless you are doing it you are behind,’’ Ms Smith said.

She said her experience in Port Stephens showed international visitors especially wanted an activity when they arrived at their destination, such as cruising or whale-watching.

The NSW Tourism Awards’ finalists will be announced on October 9 and the winners on November 22.

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