With the Greater Lithgow Region suffering from the bushfires and the pandemic, regional tour operator Steve Ridd says that Lithgow Council has not applied for a portion of the Federal Government's $76 million bushfire recovery package on offer to help rebuild the region's tourism industry.
This rare grant funding has been available since January, 19 announced by prime minister Scott Morrison as an "urgent injection" of tourism funding.
Lithgow is one of the 30 bushfire-affected regions and so there would be a fair chance of funding being granted, according to Mr Ridd.
"The Regional Tourism Bushfire Recovery Grants programme has two funding streams to support tourism events, concerts, festivals and visitor attractions in fire affected regions to assist with recovery efforts and encourage international and domestic visitors to come back to the regions, once the pandemic lockdown is lifted.
"But Stream 1 Grants for up to $30,000 per applicant has already closed. Yet Stream 2 grants to fund larger events remains open for applications until November 20. So what is Lithgow Council doing to access this funding?" he said.
"And then there's the PM's whopping $76 million Tourism Recovery Package to protect jobs, small businesses and local economies affected by the bushfires, and Lithgow and the Blue Mountains are amongst the bushfire-affected regions that both qualify."
"Many regional businesses and jobs rely on tourism and associated hospitality.
"Tourists need to know that there is indeed more on offer beyond McDonalds on the highway. This is a time for planning and applying for the funding," he said.
Mr Ridd who says he has more than 20 years experience as a coach captain and tour guide, has partnered with Lithgow heritage consultant and tour guide Ian Rufus in jointly designing a local tourism initiative, the Lithgow Valley Explorer.
As members of Lithgow Tourism, the two have designed a set of bus tours that explore the many attractions, landscape and eateries of Lithgow, also extending to the greater region, tapping into the various events that occur throughout the year.
Mr Ridd appealed to Lithgow Council to plan for tourism recovery initiatives such as this to seize this rare funding opportunity.
"It's money for jam", claims Mr Ridd.
As one tiny tourism initiative, Mr Ridd has recommended to the Lithgow Tourism manager and to Lithgow mayor Cr Ray Thompson to apply for this funding in order to set up the Lithgow Valley Explorer.
"Council can use the funds to purchase a touring mini bus, decal it with local tourism advertising, fund its maintenance as part of council's vehicle fleet, to employ local drivers/guides for say, the next three years to get the venture off the ground," he said.
He said he would be keen to train up local bus drivers in the tour routes, guiding skills and commentary and to collaborate with Lithgow TAFE.
"Through TAFE we can qualify local guides to deliver a set of local and regional tours that link up the region's many attractions.
"For instance, a morning and afternoon tour could pick up from the station, visitors centre and various accommodation venues, then showcase Lithgow's attractions like the Small Arms Factory Museum, Eskbank House Museum, the Blast Furnace, the State Mine Heritage Park and explain insights into the region's rich history and magnificent national parks and surrounding scenery," he said.
Ian Rufus is Lithgow's own experienced and qualified heritage consultant who has designed and run many tours of heritage including for specialised international groups.
Mr Ridd said Lithgow Council was in a position to be able to help local business recover.
"The Council and the local businesses can't do it by themselves.
"A properly marketed and funded local tour service would facilitate the inter-connectivity between tourists and attractions and cafés. This initiative is wholly consistent with the Lithgow Regional Economic Development Strategy 2018-2022. All that remains is to act on initiatives like this one."
Mr Ridd has sought a meeting with interested councillors about collaborative options in order to give Lithgow's Tourism a lift.
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