Bellingen Shire has long been regarded as a place of natural beauty and has strong appeal for nature-based tourism. This holiday season we have seen tourist numbers increase like never before. This is largely down to restrictions on both interstate and international travel. Similarly, metropolitan residents are wanting to “escape to the country” after successive lockdowns and risks and exposure to the virus from crowded places. The Shire’s proximity to Sydney and Northern NSW means we are a convenient destination for short breaks and the self-drive market.
Council takes a very proactive approach with respect to tourism and the risks associated from increasing visitation. During the last five years, there has been a strong focus on tourism management rather than tourism marketing. Management strategies implemented most recently include:
- Bellingen Shire Branding Strategy – this will assist in positioning our Shire to market segments that have similar ideals to our community.
- Departure from the Coffs Coast Marketing Partnership – this has reduced broad promotion of the Bellingen Shire and gives our community more control over what attractions and areas are promoted
- Increased focus on the Aspirational traveller and inclusive tourism
- Introduction of a new camping policy to reduce illegal camping across the Shire
This holiday season has seen a strong influx of visitors to the Promised Land. In 2016, Council developed the Gleniffer Reserves Master Plan in partnership with the community. The Plan aims to reduce environmental and social impacts from visitation to Council Reserves in the Gleniffer Valley. Some outcomes from this Plan include:
- Installation of Interpretive Signage at the four Reserves to educate visitors around appropriate behaviour and promotion of alternative swimming venues across the Shire
- A moratorium on all Council and industry promotion of The Promised Land. This has largely been supported by local business and Council’s Tourist Information Centres
- Monitoring of visitor and vehicular numbers
- Introduction of regulatory signage to discourage camping at the Reserves
- Riverbank restoration works to counter erosion caused by vehicular access within the riparian zone
- Bush regeneration works to create natural barriers to reduce trespassing on private property
- Increased ranger patrols during peak times
- Establishment of a dedicated Council Contact Point so issues can be reported by residents
There is more work to be done under the Master Plan. Council is very aware of the pressure the area is under. This pressure comes from both tourists and residents (local and regional), continued promotion by individuals on social media, continued promotion by local accommodation properties and ad-hoc promotion by bloggers, television programmes and travel publications.
What makes management of this area even more challenging is that most visitation occurs within Tuckers Nob State Forest – which is outside Council’s control. State Forests allow a wide range of recreational activity. There is also the issue of whether the introduction of new visitor infrastructure will attract even more visitors and detract from the natural ambience that visitors and residents treasure. Both Gleniffer Rd and Promised Land Loop Rd are public roads limiting Council’s capacity to reduce traffic numbers. Council will continue to liaise with the Gleniffer Working Group on the implementation of the Gleniffer Reserves Master Plan and will aim to meet with key stakeholders, (including Forestry and the local Police) early in the new year, to discuss and develop strategies which may go some way to addressing increasing visitation to The Promised Land.