Armidale Regional Council is taking a back-to-basics approach to marketing the region's delights to post-lockdown tourists through a social media campaign that leverages word-of-mouth promotion.
The post-COVID-19 tourism strategy came about through the current operational plan budget restrictions, but it is an excellent opportunity to get things right from the bottom up, says Armidale Regional acting principal advisor for tourism Katrina George.
"There is some good grassroots stuff happening - it's good to actually take a breath and get some of this stuff done that needs to be done," Ms George said.
"Under the financial improvement order, we don't have a big budget, so we have to be really smart with what we've got, and improve on and create some great assets that have a lot of longevity.
"There is quite a lot of exciting stuff going on."
The campaign aims to capitalise on a pent-up travel demand from Sydneysiders with a lack of opportunity to travel closer to home.
"We're definitely expecting a boom," Ms George said.
"The big thing is that as soon as 5 million Sydney people come out of lockdown, traditionally what has happened is that the main short trip for them is within a three-hour drive, but the word is that those places are already fully booked for Christmas and the school holidays.
"Those people are not going to say - oh, I won't go away - they will start looking further afield."
Ms George said that was the experience following the less severe lockdown last year, and people are not just looking to get away.
What we noticed last time was that people wanted to spoil themselves and went more upmarket with their accommodation," Ms George said. "A lot of our motels were sitting at the 70 to 80 percent capacity mark."
According to post-pandemic tourism research conducted by the state government, the pandemic has also given people a different perspective on what they want to do when they next travel domestically.
"A common theme was doing things they haven't done before or going places they haven't been to before," Ms George said.
"There are so many places that people think, oh I'd really like to go there one day - well, that one day is where we are at. Those people in Sydney who are thinking I'd really like to see Armidale one day - this is probably when we are going to see them."
And safety and space are a top priority for domestic travellers in the short term.
"One of the findings that have come out of this is the theme that post lockdown people want to feel safe and that safety aspect these days is around space," Ms George said.
"People want to experience things and know they are not going to be around crowds, and know if there is a break out they are not in a popular tourist destination like the Blue Mountains bushwalking - they want to be somewhere more remote like our national wilderness parks.
"So it is all about safety, space, and connecting with nature."
People love to tell their own stories and share their discoveries, Ms George said, and the new Armidale tourism campaign will exploit this. The most significant back-to-basics elements are a brand new Armidale Tourism website, a new Waterfall Way website, and a social media campaign to highlight the many benefits of the region.
"The new websites are about giving people the tools to explore and letting them discover things in our region so they can tell people about them," she said.
"The social media campaign in spring will be about getting locals to tell their stories of our beautiful area and with lots of tagging and sharing.
"What's so great about social media is that you will see Armidale through so many different eyes. I really love that it is not one person but that the community gets to own it."
Thanks to bushfire recovery funding, there is also a new experience for those who come to Armidale later in the year - a SoundTrail tour at Girraween National Park, which will complement the existing SoundTrail tour in Armidale's Catholic precinct.
"The funding was for SoundTrail tours at Apsley Falls, Bald Rock, and Girraween, and all of them have a real connection with the ancient stories and the Aboriginal people as well as the more recent settlers on the land," Ms George said.
"There are lots of lovely Armidale identities telling the stories throughout our SoundTrail."
Accommodation capacity can be limited during peak visitor times, and the new Armidale SerVies Motel will slightly ease that, Ms George said, but the increasing popularity of Air B&B properties could also give some hope.
"At any one time, we could have an extra 130 beds available, so that could be a good thing," she said.
"We can get access to disused boarding houses at private schools and the university, but it's not clear if that will continue in a post-Covid19 world.
"This is a whole new ball game - when we came out before, there were no cases, but now, with this new variant COVID-19 will still be around.
"That is another reason we are not spending a lot of money on a marketing campaign because we still just don't know."
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