A partnership between the Hunter Valley Visitor Information Centre and the Hunter Valley Wine and Tourism Association will unlock "enormous potential" for local tourism operators, the stakeholders say.
At its September 16 meeting, Cessnock City Council approved the formation of a joint tourism services agreement between the visitor information centre (a council facility) and the member-run HVWTA - an agreement that its expected to be formalised at a special meeting of the association in October.
The partnership aims to create a "powerful single brand" for Hunter Valley Wine Country, fulfilling both destination marketing and best-practice in-destination tourism services, while creating the capacity to attract funding and to expand product offerings.
In response to member feedback received earlier in the year, the HVWTA sought to streamline services, gain greater resource and asset efficiencies and access to funding by forming a working alliance with the council.
"Building on the momentum of the alliance, we set out to create one tourism service representing the interests of operators in Hunter Valley Wine Country, delivering a range of economic benefits to members, while creating a single unified entity to promote, market and advocate on behalf of wine country," HVWTA president Christina Tulloch said.
"The model will also unlock significant potential funding streams to support a sustainable and highly-competitive tourism brand, capable of advocating across all levels of government.
"To achieve this we're working on forming a 'joint tourism services agreement' whereby together with the VIC, the HVWTA will become a more powerful single unified entity to better market and promote the Hunter Valley Wine Country brand and offer visitors to our region a more seamless visitor experience."
The agreement will remove the duplication of services between council and the association, and will allow additional services to be delivered for the same cost.
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"Beyond the immediate benefit of a seamless visitor experience, with the hefty de-duplication of assets and streamlining resources, working in close partnership has advantages for industry in giving our region its best chance ever of strengthening our presence as a destination of choice," HVWTA CEO Amy Cooper said.
"We are using this opportunity to create a more equitable membership model, which is sustainable and predictable.
"With strong economic benefits of achieving unity between local government and industry, we'll speak with one voice to attract new funding streams, and to advocate and lobby on behalf of the region."
The new funding model will identify cost savings, increase income from the visitor economy, improve access to grant funding, and will implement a fee structure that equitably and fairly levies membership fees from all those who directly or indirectly rely on the success of the Hunter Valley Wine Country brand to sustain their business.
"What it will effectively mean is a single membership for the whole of industry and one strong, united voice to market, promote and advocate for our region," council's economic development and tourism manager Tony Chadwick said.
Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said it's a "win-win" for all involved.
"No doubt there will be significant benefits from a collaborative approach," he said.