8 ways to support your regional tourism industry to grow

Below is a talk I gave at the national annual 2023 SEGRA Conference in Toowoomba last July, attended by  economic and tourism development managers in councils and Regional Development boards. SEGRA is a not for profit organisation advocating for sustainable development in regional Australia.

If you work with tourism operators often you are the single strongest asset in your region. You may think - I'm just a pebble in the ocean, but even if you have no budget, there are many things you can do to strengthen the confidence of your industry. You can positively impact and influence people through the way you prepare, by understanding regional trends and the characteristics of your industry and being able to talk to others about the challenges your region faces, how you apply frameworks and tools to manage tough times, and courageously advocate for your region when you have access to decision makers. 


As a reigonal toruism professional, you will hear ALL the things operators are worried about but 80% of it will be out of their control …and yours.  Still listen but be selective what you take on board. Starting a business is hectic, learning new skills is hard midlife. Tourism operators are juggling a LOT.  This concept of defining the 'locus of control'and 'locus of concern' is from the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and it looks a bit like this (taken from Booked Out! How to Start and Grow a Successful Tourism Business): 

This framework frees people up not to ‘do it all’ but to set priorities, get some control back, create space to do what’s in grasp, and hold off anxiety about the things out of our control.

2. use your 3 levels of power 

The three levels of power are personal power, positional power and political power. All of us have personal power, but if you work in mid or upper management you have positional power, and if you are in a senior role in government, you carry political power. Having three levels is an opportunity and a gift. You can really help many tourism operators who experience isolation and face a lot of barriers and who all think - is it just me, or am I really doing this on my own?  Consciously exercising your levels of power will give you greater awareness of when to escalate, advocate, refer or support operators who come seeking help and guidance, and use all of your resources appropriately, at the right time. 

3. Know your operators 

Use your personal power and connect. Make a phone call. It costs nothing. You build a relationship, get information. Ask them how they’re going, they are not alone. It all helps.  People appreciate your time.

4. Take a strategic approach to industry wide development

If you don’t know your operators or have hundreds and want to get to know them at a strategic level, build a database and start to explore your industry by characteristics : size, location, experiences, maturity, and their engagement levels. Build knowledge of the age and stage of businesses, not just the experiences on offer. Go behind the scenes. Segmenting your database can help target support to the needs of each group. The quickest way to build a database is draw down from the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse or ATDW.  ATDW powers web content for consumer tourism websites and What’s On web lists councils promote and media use.  ATDW is currently free and operator managed. 


If you have established businesses not showing up when you analyse who's actively listed, pick up the phone and check in on them, or let them know before peak season as they will be losing money for every day they are not registering on this amazing database that feeds content in lots of consumer facing tourism sites. They may have closed. But if not, it's very easy to ‘fall off’ unknowingly, if they haven’t updated their details in 12 months – even if nothing has changed. I speak from experience, it is very frustrating to lose bookings in the pre-season in an extremely competitive sector for small technical reasons like this.  It helps to have someone with regional oversight to tap you on the shoulder if there are red flags like established businesses mysteriously going AWOL from your regional listing without reason. DEFINATELY something you should be letting operators know if you want to help them get booked out!  

6. move from individual wealth creation, to ‘what underpins business scaling?'

Tourism relies on services that have tendrils into other sectors. There’s a tendency to copy and a lot of ‘same same’ that goes nowhere as there can often be weak suply chain diveristy in some regions. For example a linen and laundry service could help accommodation operators outsource work, share capital and focus on growth elsewhere. It can also service hospitals, doctor surgeries and nursing homes. Collective initiatives that sustain ecosystems can be a game changer in a region. What about a matching app that sole trader cleaners can join to promote their availability and pitch for cleaning work, (like ‘Uber meets Bumble’) where tourism operators can select from available cleaners/gardeners/maintenance people in region for short or long term work. This woud stop a lot of burnout, poaching, and inefficient supply-demand where skilled labor is scarce, overpriced, or geographically isolated. Get creative!

7. Get project ready

You never know when there’s a spare $5m around to spend on regional  projects, and if you are ready and have a developed project brief you can strike when the iron is hot and be the first to get funded. Develop up some high level project plans with your industry and have them ‘top drawer’ ready.  There is  a section in the book on how Destinations can be  developed to support tourism with increased length of stay with things like trails and access points and visitor flow. These all cost money and there are regular large grants for capital to promote the regional visitor economy.

8. Use political power to advocate for visibility

On behalf of your regional industry – especially to the state tourism body or Minister forTourism, pick up the phone and ask – what about us?  Increasingly regional reality is not understood by city-based marketers or decision makers, and there needs to be continued advocacy. Soft and hard. Use political power and keep ATDW free as it’s one of the single most powerful distribution platforms and distribution is a secret weapon for new regional tourism operators a long way from market. 

Use political power and keep ATDW FREE as it’s one of the single most powerful distribution platforms and distribution is a secret weapon for new regional tourism operators a long way from market. Without speaking up, there is no awareness of need, and many people in power want to know specifically how they can help.

Buy your copy of Booked Out! How to Start and Grow a Successful Regional Tourism Business here.

Contact us, call Susan Lee

0466 090 600