By Kate Emery
Source: The West Australian
Small towns that want to be tourist hotspots need to think regionally not just locally, says visiting small-town expert Kim Huston.
The US author and economic development expert is making the 18,000km trip from the Kentucky town of Bardstown to Jurien Bay next week with a message, as the town wrestles with the problem of how to make itself stand out on a coast full of small towns in search of tourist dollars.
“Some of the most successful communities are not just doing it by themselves,” Ms Huston told The West Australian on the eve of her first trip to WA.
“Be one strong region and not just one strong town.”
For Bardstown, named one of America’s best small towns, that has meant being part of Kentucky’s “bourbon trail” – a collaboration between towns that are home to the region’s bourbon distilleries.
For Jurien Bay, it likely means working with neighbours such as Cervantes, Green Head and Leeman, to leverage off natural attractions, most notably the Pinnacles.
Jurien Bay Chamber of Commerce chairman Clinton Strugnell said the town had had an influx of tourists since the Indian Ocean Drive went through in 2010. The next step was enticing visitors to “stay that extra night”.
“What we have seen since the road came through is people wanting to come in and have a look around . . . but we’ve been a bit slow in branding,” Mr Strugnell said.
“There are a lot of coastal towns, what’s going to differentiate us?”
To answer that question the chamber is bringing in Ms Huston, author of Small Town Sexy, and Australian planner Gilbert Rochecouste, credited with helping create Melbourne’s laneway culture, for a public forum on the town’s future.
Already feedback suggests nature-based tourism and adventure tourism should have a role in “brand Jurien Bay”.
Christine Sparrow and her partner Pete set up Jurien Skydive five years ago.
In their first year, they did about 500 tandem jumps. These days it is more like 6000.
She said opportunities, particularly for adventure tourism, were there. It was just a matter of convincing operators to set up shop in Jurien Bay.
“It’s just been absolutely keeping up with demand,” she said.
“We saw just so much potential and we thought this town was just going to grow.”
One source of frustration has been seeing some developments, including plans for a hotel near the water, tied up in red tape.
For all the talk of what Jurien Bay could do differently, there are plenty who want to preserve what they think it already does well. Thanks partly to its popularity among retirees and partly to the proximity of Ardross’ Beachridge Estate land development, Jurien Bay has not suffered the population decline of some coastal towns.
The chamber said the permanent population was about 2000, which can double at peak times.
Brian Lamb – “Mr Squid” to those who know of his unofficial record for catching the most squid in a season – is one resident who enjoys the town’s serenity. The 66-year-old moved to Jurien Bay 15 years ago.
Jurien Bay Chamber of Commerce chairman, Clinton Strugnell on the town jetty. Picture: Nic Ellis/The West Australian
“I came up here one day and thought ‘This’ll do me’,” he said.
“It was a very quiet fishing town and then the road went in and now you’ve got everyone coming through.
“It’s still a little homely place. Everybody’s friendly.”
Perth tourists Tony and Lana Blitvich and Glenda and Merve Raison also enjoy the peace and quiet of a town that serves as a good “stopping-off point” between other destinations.
They said locals were friendly, parking easy and the atmosphere relaxing.
Asked how the town could improve Mr Raison suggested it could “maybe promote themselves a bit more”.
“For us it’s the feel of the place,” Mr Raison said. “It just feels good.”