The importance of tourism to the Hunter Valley’s economy was at the forefront of discussions when the state’s tourism minister visited the region this week.
Adam Marshall – who was appointed minister for tourism and major events in January – met with wine industry representatives on Thursday evening, and members of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Alliance and tourism and accommodation operators on Friday.
“The Hunter Valley is a significant tourism destination in NSW – it’s one of the jewels in the crown,” he said.
The Armidale-based MP said he recognises the importance of tourism to regional and rural NSW and that he is “very focused” on growing and developing tourism assets in these areas.
“I’m here to listen and learn and see where we as a government can help these guys, and ultimately, try to lift visitor numbers to help boost the economy and create jobs,” he said.
Mr Marshall said the Hunter Valley is well-positioned to capitalise on the possibility of international flights to Newcastle Airport.
He said changing the perception that the Hunter Valley is “just about wine and food” would be another way to grow visitor numbers.
“There’s nothing the Hunter Valley can’t provide for,” he said.
“Wine and food is its bread and butter, but there’s so much more.”
Incentives for business tourism and concerns over taxes were also discussed at the morning tea on Friday, as well as the need for tourism funding to be divided fairly and spent wisely.
Mr Marshall said the government is in the process of putting together a regional conferencing strategy.
He said making sure the Hunter Valley has a skilled workforce to meet the demand for new jobs was also important.
Mr Marshall was impressed with the structure and initiative of the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Alliance (a partnership between Cessnock and Singleton Councils and the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association).
Alliance chairman George Souris said the united front approach has proved to be an effective way for the councils and the local wine and tourism industries to deal with the government and achieve what they want valley-wide – increased visits, wine sales and jobs.
“We are continuing to develop Hunter Valley wine country as a world-class tourism destination,” Mr Souris said.
“(The alliance) is a fairly unique collaboration – it’s more than a united front, it brings major resources.”
Cessnock Council’s economic development manager Jane Holdsworth said the two councils and the association are working together to make sure the industry is well-supported.
“The economic resilience of this region will be very reliant on visitors,” she said.
“It’s good to have a minister who supports regional areas and will make sure that we get our fair share.”
Singleton deputy mayor Godfrey Adamthwaite said Mr Marshall’s visit was a positive move for local tourism.
“It’s really pleasing that the minister took the time to see the collaboration between Singleton and Cessnock councils and the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association,” he said.