The Margaret River Pro Cancelled Shadow Tourism Minister Speaks About The Fallout

In regards to the recent cancellation of The 2018 Margaret River Pro from Western Australia, which was Event 3 Of The 2018 World Surf League Season Tour. I have decided to let you hear from Libby Mettam who is the Western Australian shadow Minister for Tourism give some feedback on the topic. As I might be biased to say the least, as I was disappointed that the contest was cancelled after the 2nd Round.

Earlier this month, Western Australia was put on the the International stage for all the wrong reasons. The State secured the title of the nation’s capital after two shark attacks near Gracetown, which caused the cancellation of The 2018 Margaret River Pro.

While life moves on for the high – profile professional surfers and the millions of World Surf League fans around the globe, the impact of the decision and the uncertainty over the future of the surfing event is devastating for the Margaret River economy and the broader Western Australian tourism industry. The Margaret River region’s reputation as a surfing mecca is now in tatters, and hardest hit are the numerous small businesses throughout the South West of Western Australia.

The Margaret River Pro is a major tourism draw card for the South West, injecting an estimated $5.5 million into the local economy each year by bringing thousands of international and interstate visitors to the region to spend money on accommodation and in cafes, wineries and surf shops.

However the real issue is the major impact the cancellation of this major international event will have on future visitor numbers to Western Australia, which continue to decline under the stewardship of the McGowan Government in a current soft economy.

More than 18 million surfing fans visited The Margaret River Pro website last year, and the event draws an International television audience of just under 8 million, which is a tremendous showcase not only for the South West region but for all of Western Australia.

However given the media organisations around the world have reported on shark attacks and professional surfers afraid to enter the water, our State’s reputation as a tourism destination is being tarnished. Despite Tourism Minister Paul Papalia preaching to the Western Australian public that the cancellation of The Margaret River Pro will not affect tourism because most visitors don’t surf, the fact is, perception is reality.

Indeed when he commented at the start of the Margaret River Pro, the minister made the point that hosting International sporting events was driving visitation, including changing perceptions of Perth and attracting more people, more often to regional Western Australia.

Regrettably, the Government’s failure to implement a comprehensive shark mitigation policy is changing perceptions, for the worst, and we should be concerned about the effect on our biggest market, International tourism market being, China. According to Tourism Australia’s Traveller Snapshot 2017 : Chinese traveller’s choose a destination based on world – class nature, good food and wine, aquatic and coastal scenery. A destination must also satisfy the rational factors of safety and security and value for money. With over 62 per cent of Chinese visitors indicating Australian beaches are an appealing Australian attraction, any negative perception associated with our prime tourism attractions cannot be treated flippantly by the Government.

What is needed is action to ensure public safety in our coastal waters, action to ensure we retain our major events and action to attract tourists and assure them we are a fun, vibrant and safe place to visit. International events such as The Margaret River Pro are hard to come by. They are even harder to retain.

So far, five open water events in the past 12 months have been interrupted because of shark safety issues, and given that surfing will debut as an Olympic event in 2020 in Tokyo, international interest in the sport will only increase.

The McGowan Government needs to take the matter of shark mitigation seriously. In recent years, more people especially tourists are participating in activities that put them directly in the sharks home territory – swimming, snorkelling, stand up paddle – boarding and sea kayaking.

Obviously the more people that wade into a shark’s world, the more likely the chance of human – shark encounters. What is needed is a comprehensive and proactive shark mitigation policy, one that includes using more than one brand of shark deterrent for a select few and one that takes a realistic apolitical approach in considering the use of smart drum lines and clever buoys, which have been a success in New South Wales and Queensland.

If the McGowan Government is serious about increasing our visitor numbers and supporting our Western Australian tourism industry, it needs to ensure one of our most important assets – our beaches – are safe to enjoy.

In closing I myself have been surfing for over 30 years around the world and have never had a single problem with sharks. As I have been to busy focused on the waves, enjoying the moment in the sunshine or rain and among the elements. Or maybe trying to concentrate and add another dimension to my surfing level by trying new maneuvers.

For the love of surfing. Day in Day out, Month after Month, Year to Year !!!

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