Tourism researcher helps operators get back on feet

SHE'S been in Christchurch after the earthquake, Victoria after the Black Saturday bushfires and now in the Gladstone Region post-floods, helping operators back on their feet.

Dr Gabrielle Walters spoke to a group of tourism operators at Seventeen Seventy about the best ways to help their businesses get back in the black after the disaster downturn

The University of Queensland academic, whose research includes tourism marketing communications and tourism crisis recovery marketing, presented Discover your Tourism Potential, an initiative of the GAPDL funded by the Australian Government AusIndustry business support scheme.

Dr Walters has completed an experimental study to identify how to best communicate with tourists post-disaster.

"While many (tourism) operators on the Discovery Coast were not directly flood-damaged, the road closures and uncertainty for visitors after the floods was real,'' she said.

"There are a few simple and cost-effective ways of communicating to potential visitors and customers that your business is operating after such an incident."

Dr Walters said tourists took time to return to an area after similar disasters, but that time varied depending on the situation.

Following the Victorian bushfires it took tourists up to two years before they returned in numbers similar to those before the event, whereas after floods it took only six months.

She said regular visitors - those who had come as tourists to the area on more than one occasion in the past - were those most likely to return.

"Your database, with records of previous and regular visitors, is like gold," she said.

"Price slashing doesn't seem to work, but marketing to previous customers gets results. People are more likely to return to somewhere they know."

Reef2Beach surf shop owner Wayne 'Grom' Mellick and LARC Tours owner/operator Neil Mergard said a few simple, cost-effective ideas suggested by Dr Walters would help their businesses in the future.