Metro Tourism – Wake Up, Come Visit Our Sleepy Suburbs

The current architecture of tourism development and promotion does not provide adequate recognition and support to metropolitan Melbourne. Metropolitan Melbourne often falls between the cracks of the promotion of ‘the city’ (i.e. focused on central Melbourne) and ‘the regions’ i.e. outside of the metropolitan Melbourne area. The traditional structure of Tourism Victoria’s ‘Jigsaw’ model has been very effective in communicating every piece of Victoria, but Melbourne itself is too often just embraced just as one single piece of that Jigsaw. The recent announcements about the rebranding of Victoria don’t seem to offer much change to this

There are many great examples of districts within international cities, think New York’s Harlem, Meatpacking District, or Greenwich Village; Hong Kong’s Stanley and Kowloon; or even London’s Shoreditch or Hampstead, where visitor promotion is focused on the precincts and districts within the metropolitan fabric of these cities.

Melbourne seems to miss the opportunity to promote its equivalent districts and precincts outside of the central area. The urban brand and positioning of Melbourne could be significantly enhanced as a series of more localised urban visitor brands to offer a greater differentiation and product interest to augment the overall Melbourne experience and grow ‘Brand Melbourne’.
Local suburban councils are not traditionally seen to be, nor encouraged to be, ‘in tourism’ in the same way as Melbourne City Council, and nor for that matter, their local government counterparts in regional Victoria.

Tourism is emerging as one of the great white hopes of the economy. As a sector tourism is threatening mining as Australia’s largest export earner and it offers positive opportunity because it is sustainable and will continue to grow. More relevant is the continued growth of domestic tourism with Melbourne ranked as the most visited Australian city by Australians. Add to this the opportunities locally either from visitors from regional Victoria, or visitation across Melbourne itself (not often factored into tourism campaigns). Maybe it’s time for suburban councils to take it much more seriously.

Leveraging on the success of the central Melbourne, we need a stronger strategic focus in building our suburban centres as true destinations; let’s start thinking in terms of making these great places to visit, rather than as just to inhabit. This will support the growth of new mini centres of stronger identity and city Iife (and strengthen these places as hubs for employment too).

The wealthier central city council holds great primacy. It is a dominant big brother council to its suburban siblings. Supported by the Victorian Government, bigger investments in marketing and city experience branding should be encouraged for other councils beyond the centre. The identities of our local council areas are really not that inspiring. They feel like ‘newbie places’ from the era of municipal amalgamation, and Councils are obliged in their communications and promotional efforts in making them civically inspiring.

Setting aside our municipal identities, there could be much more effort invested in the places which offer stronger known place recognition. To start with there is a wonderful continuous ring of inner urban villages to explore from Williamstown, Newport, Yarraville, right around to Prahran, Fitzroy, St Kilda and Port Melbourne. Beyond the inner ring, so much great potential exists in centres such as Werribee, Sunshine, Box Hill or Dandenong. Many of these places are becoming dynamic hubs of multicultural life once more likely to be found in inner Melbourne.

Spreading some ‘urban cachet’ across the Metropolitan region will help promote a more consolidated city and perhaps help reduce the spread of our outer city edges. Developers continue to create locations with utopian lifestyles with new names at the fringe, but couldn’t there be more effort to ramp up the existing city fabric?
The focus of planning discussion is often centred on sizable investments to update groaning infrastructure, but perhaps the debate could be supported with a bit more marketing spin that could produce some simple and quicker yield. Some clever branding and reinvention of place identity could help us meet the challenges of consolidating population growth , but also help the Metro Melbourne economy win its share of the expanding tourism dollar and leverage every piece of Melbourne.

Richard Ponsford is the Executive Officer for Western Melbourne Tourism, an urban regional tourism board for Melbourne’s West. This article was inspired through attendance at Victoria University’s recent Melbourne 2050 conference sponsored by the Committee for Melbourne and The Age.

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