Ballina?s identity crisis
By GRAHAM BROADHEAD
That's the standard tourist reaction, according to a visiting tourism guru with 40 years of experience under his belt.
It's a major marketing problem for the town branded 'the ugly sister of Byron Bay' by one Sydney newspaper a few years ago.
Now it seems it's more a case of the unknown neighbour.
Which is ironic, when Ballina is booming with tourism development ? with Virgin Blue now flying into Ballina, and a five-star Ramada Hotel soon to be built along Ballina's riverfront.
Norm White, a national tourism consultant who gave a workshop for 25 industry players in town last Thursday, said Ballina was simply not marketing itself as a tourist destination.
"I couldn't help thinking this is what Noosa was like 20 years ago," he said. "I was blown away by what Ballina had to offer. But the biggest problem is: 'Ballina where?'"
It's a common refrain repeated by tourists making a pit stop at the Big Prawn.
Stephen and Gillian Johnston, from the Sunshine Coast hinterland, said they had driven through Ballina several times, but knew absolutely nothing about it.
Gillian said they had chosen Iluka for their fishing holiday because they had wanted a camping spot at the river mouth, right near a beach.
"But we didn't find it," she said. "It was different from how it looked on the map."
Gillian was surprised to learn Ballina was also a popular fishing spot.
"We asked some of the locals down there about similar places. And we heard Wooli, Evans Head and Browns Rocks. But not one person mentioned Ballina," she said.
Val and Albert Pascoe, from Cootamundra, said they had been holidaying in Ballina for the past eight years.
But before their daughter and son-in-law moved to the town, they had never heard of it.
Rick Mowle, manager and part-owner of the Headland Beach Resort at Lennox Head, said it was a marketing problem he and other tourism operators were well aware of, and which had lead to the recent formation of Tourism Ballina ? a group of industry players keen to boost the town's profile.
"There's a huge lack of awareness," he said. "It has to start with the operators and the private sector."
Mr Mowle said in the past there had been a passive attitude of sitting back and waiting for the State, regional and council tourism bodies to take the initiative. As a result, New South Wales was getting left behind.
Mr Mowle said Tourism Ballina's focus was on turning the town into a destination, rather than just a transit stop.