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Orange City Council sent five people to a beachside tourism conference

July 22, 2023

Manly Pacific Hotel. Supplied.

By Peter Holmes

Orange City Council (OCC) sent five people to a three-day beachfront tourism conference at the luxury Manly Pacific Hotel at the end of May.

The five who attended were mayor Jason Hamling, deputy mayor Gerald Power, councillor Tony Mileto, the director of Corporate & Commercial Services Rachelle Robb and tourism manager Glenn Mickle.

A spokesperson for OCC said that the five delegates didn’t stay at the Manly Pacific Hotel - where rooms on Friday night (July 20, 2023) ranged in price from about $340 for a standard queen room to about $1,900 for a two-bedroom suite - but at another less expensive hotel that was within the council budget for travel.

Meanwhile, The Orange News Examiner can reveal that the report submitted to councillors about the conference on behalf of the group used without acknowledgement the work of a Sydney journalist who was covering the event.

OCC has since apologised to the journalist.

The Destination and Visitor Economy Conference is an annual event presented by Local Government NSW.

Tickets ranged from $1,050 (earlybird + member) to $2,285 (non-LGA member).

Council voting on conferences. Per OCC papers.

This year’s gathering was hosted by Northern Beaches Council at the Manly Pacific Hotel from Monday May 29 to Wednesday May 31.

Speakers at the conference included Dominic Mehling (Tourism Australia), Steve Cox (Destination NSW), Clarence Slockee (Indigenous company Jiwah, “specialising in cultural landscape and design”), Adele Labine-Roamin (Deloitte Access Economics) and politician John Graham (portfolios include tourism, arts).

The main theme of the conference was the “sector’s post-Covid tourism recovery, as well as new innovations, trends, and opportunities for sustainable growth in the visitor economy”.

According to the program schedule, the afternoon of the second day of the conference was taken up with activities aimed at promoting Manly and surrounds.

A Northern Beaches Council statement in April 2023 read: “As part of the conference program, Northern Beaches Council will organise site visits for delegates, showcasing the region’s extraordinary destination offering and unique tourism experiences.

“Highlights of the site tours include: Manly town centre, Shelly Beach and Cabbage Tree Bay; Manly Art Gallery & Museum; Q Station and North Head; Collaroy Beach; Narrabeen Lagoon; Palm Beach; Currawong on Pittwater; and Brookvale’s art galleries and breweries.”

Information about the conference.

In response to a question about what, if any, activities the delegates undertook, OCC said:

“One councillor chose a walking tour highlighting Manly’s cultural hub and centre for visual arts, as well as Brookvale.

“One councillor chose a walking tour titled ‘Inclusive Tourism’ focusing on how the Northern Beaches area caters for travellers requiring accessible access.

Tuesday afternoon leisure activities.

“Another councillor chose a walking tour of lagoons, beaches and waterways focusing on historic bush tucker rituals and sites.”

No information was forthcoming on whether the two staff delegates from Orange City Council undertook any of these activities.

Manly Pacific Hotel is part of global accommodation behemoth Accor’s MGallery Collection of boutique hotels. It has recently undergone a $30 million renovation.

“Influenced by the local spirit and romance of Manly's iconic heritage, Manly Pacific Sydney MGallery Collection boasts front-row seats to the famous Manly beach in Sydney, Australia,” the PR guff reads.

“Be it a beachside romance, a coastal conference or a change of pace where you can stretch out your days, you enter a new world of possibility …. Feel the change of pace that comes with a coastal lifestyle. Feel Manly Pacific.”

A conference room at Manly Pacific Hotel. Supplied..

When staff and councillors attend conferences it is generally expected that some type of report will be filed, or an information session held, so as to share insights with fellow councillors.

On pages 95-97 of recent council agenda papers was a report written by tourism manager Glenn Mickle about the conference.

Some of the Information contained in the report to council - including tourism statistics - is freely available via government and tourism websites.

“The latest industry data shows the visitor economy is recovering but has not fully recovered,” the report to councillors stated.

It included this information:

  • Global tourist arrivals were at 960 million in 2022, double the previous year but still down on the 2019 figure of 1.4 billion. [Global Tourist Arrivals refers to the number of international arrivals anywhere in the world.]

  • International arrivals in Australia at 78 percent of 2019 levels.

  • Australian visitor expenditure at 98 percent of 2019 levels while NSW is at 97 percent.

  • The Central NSW Visitor Economy supports 13,100 jobs.

  • Ten million passengers are projected to pass through the new 24-hour Western Sydney Airport each year.

  • Knowledge of Central NSW Tablelands among Australians is 15 percent.

Mickle’s report also included the following: “Todd Wright from Threesides Marketing presented an approach to destination marketing around the process of finding and keeping customers.

He asked: ‘What is our customer’s real problems and what does our destination do to solve it?’ He defined a brand as ‘what people think about us, remember about us, when we’re not around to tell them or show them’.”

The value of this insight and others to our tourism offering was not expanded upon in the report.

That may or may not come later. Should council prepare a detailed report on how the information gleaned at the conference could be put into practice to lure tourists to Orange, we will update readers.

As The Orange News Examiner researched this story, it became evident that the report to council contained sections that were identical to a published news report on the conference.

A section of the copied material.

The media website Government News publishes stories about local, state and federal governments in Australia, and a reporter/editor covered the tourism conference for the website.

At our request she compared the Orange City Council papers with her own report and concluded her work had been appropriated - without any acknowledgement. She described it as “cheeky”.

In a statement Orange City Council said: “While the staff member used notes from those who attended the conference for three-quarters of the report, quotes were also added from key speeches from a news article about the conference published on the Government News website.

"Orange City Council apologises for not attributing the journalist who wrote the original article and not acknowledging the Government News website.”

All 12 councillors waved the report about the tourism conference through at Tuesday night’s meeting. There was no discussion about the conference or how the information gathered might be put into action.

A conference dining option at Manly Pacific Hotel. Supplied.

At the meeting councillors also voted to endorse Greens councillor David Mallard’s attendance at The Cities Power Partnership’s Climate Summit for Local Government in Melbourne from September 6-8.

The summit “will bring together elected officials and chief executives from councils across the country to identify key opportunities, inform practical actions, and inspire innovation, all at the local government level”.

A ticket is $800, plus there will be associated costs including flights and accommodation.

Councillor Steve Peterson and Frances Kinghorne have said in the past they are sceptical of the value to the people of Orange in sending councillors to conferences.

When The Orange News Examiner asked Orange City Council last month about conference budgets and why it sent five councillors and the CEO to a conference in Canberra, it responded: “Council has an adopted budget of $5,000 per councillor [per year] to fund attendance at conferences. This has been a standard budget line item for a number of terms of council.”

It said training and professional development “are an important part of making sure councillors can deliver for the community” and that it was “something that successful organisations across the world value for good reason”.

“It is a priority for the current council and was so for past councils when past mayors and past councillors attended conferences and training,” OCC said.

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