Richo?s Infared Wildlife Tours operator Mark Richardson
Richo?s Infared Wildlife Tours operator Mark Richardson

Tour operators cry foulas bookings dry up

By MEGAN KINNINMENT

TOURISM operators have attacked the Byron Visi- tors' Centre (BVC), claim- ing they have been frozen out of crucial bookings during the peak summer tourism period. The operators, including Richo's Infra-Red Wildlife Tours and Surfing Byron Bay, say the town's largest tour agency, Wicked Trav- el, had taken over the management of bookings at the centre to their det- riment. In December, Wicked Travel won the licence to take bookings for activities and tours on a five-month trial basis to raise funds for the centre. Under the agreement, Wicked Travel paid a fee, believed to be around $1000 per month to the BVC, to have two of their own staff operate from the centre, taking bookings from visitors in return for a 20 per cent commission. Mark Richardson, of Ri- cho's Infra-Red Wildlife Tours, has called for the BVC to end the trial with Wicked Travel. Mr Richardson, who spent $25,000 and six months researching and setting up his night-time wildlife tours, said his business began dropping off after December. "It was a shock how

many bookings I got from the centre initially," Mr Richardson said. "Then in December, the bookings started dropping off. "I got eight bookings on Dec 31, then zero for all of January. "And this was in the peak period of summer." Mr Richardson was last week offered a refund of his BVC membership and is now taking his com- plaint to the NSW Minis- ter for Tourism, Sandra Nori. Serena and Matt Adams have run the successful Surfing Byron Bay surf school for the past eight years, and they also de- scribe January's bookings as 'weird'. "We got no bookings for about five weeks," Ser- ena said. "It's weird. It's the peak season in Byron Bay, the visitors' centre is pumping with people want- ing to learn to surf." Acting manager at the BVC, Katharyn Myres, said the centre was forced to outsource to Wicked Travel to keep afloat. While Byron Shire Council only charges a peppercorn rent on the old station master's cottage in Jonson Street, the BVC re- ceives no funding to cover the operating costs of pro- viding information to up to 2000 visitors a day, seven days a week. Member fees and leas- ing out lucrative booking licences such as accommo-

dation and tours, are the BVC's only revenue source, Ms Myres said. "We've been forced to operate as a business," she said. "It's a nice ideal to have a community-oper- ated visitor centre, but the driving issue is funding. "Wicked Travel is able to train staff, they're regis- tered and licensed. "We don't have any of those licences and we

don't have the resources to do that training." Wicked Travel manag- ing director, Jason Arthur- ton, said he had instructed his staff that the promo- tion of BVC members was their primary objective. "I have the figures to prove that at least 95 per cent of our bookings over January were all local tours and activities," Mr Arthurton said. He refused to respond

to Mr Richardson's com- plaint of being left out. BVC board member and Byron Shire councillor, Bob Tardif said, "The ide- al way for a visitor's centre to operate is for Byron Shire Council to fund it like every other council in Australia does." n What do you think? Phone the Star Feedback line on 6624 3266 or email opinions@northernstar.com.au



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