People like David Briskim and his family may save the Northern Rivers' tourism industry.
People like David Briskim and his family may save the Northern Rivers' tourism industry. The Northern Star

Northern Rivers tourism needs cash boost

PEOPLE like David Briskim and his family may save the Northern Rivers' tourism industry.

Yesterday, as Mr Briskim and his family played on Byron Bay's Main Beach, Tourism Australia predicted a serious downturn in both domestic and foreign tourists.

It estimated the value of overseas tourism next year would plummet almost 4 per cent, while domestic tourism would drop 0.9pc.

Tourism Forecasting Committee chairman Bernard Salt said there was no doubt tourist operators were 'in for a tough time in 2009'.

This is the second year the Briskim and Chizic families have travelled from Melbourne together for a Christmas holiday at Byron Bay.

“It's just great for the kids to have friends to play with on the beach all day long, while we chill out and have a good time,” he said. “Cost wasn't a factor and we plan to come back next year.”

The two families are in a minority.

Like the report, Russell Mills, the head of Tourism Northern Rivers, predicted the economic downturn, the threat of job losses and higher petrol prices will crimp tourism next year.

The Northern Rivers attracts about five million tourists each year, and about 85pc of those are Australian.

“Our source market is locals. That's where the bread and butter of our industry come from,” Mr Mills said.

However, in recent years, as the Australian dollar rose making overseas destinations more affordable, domestic tourism dwindled.

“There is the potential that if tourism operators in regions like ours present a compelling reason for people to visit, we can turn that around,” Mr Mills said.

Tourism Northern Rivers already has two promotions planned for the first three months of next year.

As well as promoting educational tourism, Mr Mills said the group would use part of the $40 million promised to the State's tourism industry in the recent mini-budget to encourage people to travel to the region.

However, Ballina MP Don Page said that money would not stop a downturn.

“By the time you take out the Sydney component of the $40 million, we are getting very little of it,” he said.

Mr Page said the Government should adopt the O'Neil tourism report it commissioned, and which this year recommended a $20 million annual promotion budget for regional NSW.

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