The Great Ocean Road attracts 5.5 million people and is worth $780m to the economy. But why aren't more people visiting Warrnambool?

RAIN, HAIL OR SHINE: Udo and Ellen Troitzsch and their dog, Oliver, don't understand why Warrnambool isn't more widely promoted. They love the city and moved here two weeks ago. Picture: Morgan Hancock
RAIN, HAIL OR SHINE: Udo and Ellen Troitzsch and their dog, Oliver, don't understand why Warrnambool isn't more widely promoted. They love the city and moved here two weeks ago. Picture: Morgan Hancock

Come on down the road

THE Great Ocean Road region draws more visitors than Phillip Island, the Whitsundays and tropical north Queensland, but Warrnambool is missing out on the benefits.

Tourists on average stay for less than an hour, and spend less than 20 cents per visit.

Warrnambool City Council is investigating ways to make tourists stay longer in the region, and spend a night in the city.

It is calling for significant investment to protect and enhance the Great Ocean Road and encourage day visitors (more than 70 per cent of visitors) to become overnight visitors.

The Shipwreck Coast Master Plan has identified priority actions to improve the visitor experience and maintain the Great Ocean Road region as a tourist attraction with significant environmental, historical and aesthetic values. 

Great South Coast group chair and Warrnambool City Council mayor Cr Kylie Gaston said it was “fascinating” the Great Ocean Road had more visitors than northern Queensland and Canberra combined.

“It’s absolutely iconic,” she said. “We need to make sure that we have a visitor experience that matches what people are anticipating. Tourism is growing – there are more and more people travelling.”

She said there was lots of parts on the Great Ocean Road that were under utilised.

“There are a lot of places after the Twelve Apostles that are not appreciated,” she said.

In 2015, there were an estimated 630,000 international visitors who visited the Great Ocean Road but did not stay in the region. Of these visitors, 81 per cent were leisure visitors either on holiday or visiting friends and relatives.

She said she was disappointed the state government had not committed funding to implementing the master plan for the Shipwreck Coast.

“Opting not to fund the master plan jeopardises the $780 million that the Shipwreck Coast generates for the Victorian economy,” she said.

“About 6,180 people are employed directly or indirectly as a result of tourism along the Great Ocean Road – and most of those jobs are in Melbourne. Investment is required to ensure that visitors to sites including the Twelve Apostles are not left disappointed. Infrastructure along the Great Ocean Road is outdated and tired.”

More than a third of international day visitors who visited the Twelve Apostles only came to Victoria because of the opportunity to visit the Great Ocean Road area.

The council wants a mix of public and private investment over the next decade to ensure the region continues to meet the expectations of visitors. 

“Funding is needed to preserve and enhance the visitor experience,” Cr Gaston said.

“Right now the average visitor to the Shipwreck Coast stays 40 minutes and spends 18 cents. 

“That’s after committing to a seven-hour round trip from Melbourne.”

Warrnambool to the world

WARRNAMBOOL’S newest marketing campaign to entice tourists aims to create an emotional connection to the city.

Warrnambool City Council visitor economy manager David McMahon said the council was working closely with Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism and Visit Victoria to grow the city’s visitor economy. 

Mr McMahon said a new “I am Warrnambool” campaign highlighted the core essence of Warrnambool. 

He identified the Maremmas protecting the penguins at Middle Island, the whales at Logans Beach, Flagstaff Hill and Lake Pertobe, the breadth of the food and retail offering and the arts, culture and nightlife in the city as core experiences.

“Warrnambool is uniquely positioned within the Great Ocean Road region to service visitors both day and night all year round,” he said.

“The campaign creates a unique identity for Warrnambool and positioning it to leverage off the national and international icon of the Great Ocean Road.”

Campaign elements include a new website for Warrnambool at www.visitwarrnambool.com.au, public relations activity targeting traditional and digital media, and digital and social advertising. 

“This campaign is targeting the domestic market with Warrnambool showcased internationally as part of the great southern touring route programs,” Mr McMahon said.

He said to build the success of the campaign and Warrnambool’s visitor economy it was critical there was growing participation by Warrnambool businesses.

Mr McMahon said tourism campaigns surrounding the Oddball movie had seen “long-term benefits”, as well as the marketing programs conducted by Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism.

He said recent research collected by Tourism Research Australia indicated nearly 1.2 million nights were spent in Warrnambool by more than 347,000 visitors.

Warrnambool City councillor Peter Hulin says the Great Ocean Road is “the secret to the future”.

He backs the council push for government funding to improve attractions, and says the potential for the city is outstanding. Cr Hulin said road and rail connections also needed to be brought up to scratch. Along with fellow councillor Tony Herbert, he wants to see a strong marketing campaign to state, national and international tourists.

Warrnambool mayor Kylie Gaston said the city was “a bit of a hidden gem”.

“Warrnambool has a magnificent beachline, with beautiful coastal walks,” she said. “You can drive to Tower Hill and see a kangaroo, koala and emu in one go. There is an opportunity to grow and to market ourselves. I think the secret is getting out. We are actively exploring ways to put us on the map.” 

Tourists to photograph the Twelve Apostles. Picture: Amy Paton

Tourists to photograph the Twelve Apostles. Picture: Amy Paton

WARRNAMBOOL: A great place to live, work and invest

UDO and Ellen Troitzsch moved to Warrnambool two weeks ago.

They had been visiting the seaside city as tourists for ten years, and eventually decided to move from Melbourne.

They love Warrnambool and can’t wait to kayak on the Merri and Hopkins rivers, but say the city is not widely promoted.

Friends suggested they should continue past the city, and purchase a home in Port Fairy, but the German-born couple said they preferred Warrnambool. 

Mrs Troitzsch said not enough was being done to create a positive image for the city.

“Warrnambool needs to be put on the map,” she said.

“Tourists go to the Twelve Apostles and turn around and head back to Melbourne. The most beautiful part actually starts after that. We need to get people spending a night here. They can visit Lady Bay, see the Maremmas, go to Tower Hill and then to Port Fairy as an addition to a Warrnambool visit.”

Mr Troitzsch said a radio marketing campaign in Melbourne could draw more visitors.

“Warrnambool is totally underrated,” he said.

“There is so much potential that is not being utilised, and we don’t understand why. This should be a major destination. We need to change the perception about Warrnambool.”

He suggested the city could be a great stop along the Melbourne to Adelaide corridor.

“We have found through the whole process of moving, there is still a perception of Warrnambool as a small, rural town,” Mrs Troitzsch said. 

Mr Troitzsch said Warrnambool had great cafes, shops and schools.

“I don’t know why people aren’t coming here,” he said.

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. Picture: Amy Paton

The Twelve Apostles on the Great Ocean Road. Picture: Amy Paton