Tag Archives: tourism

Case Study: BIG4 Shepparton East Holiday Park

For the latest in our series of Hume region business case studies, we spoke to Kaye Bernardi - owner of the BIG4 Shepparton East Holiday Park.

Business overview

Kym & Kaye Bernardi have owned and operated the BIG4 Shepparton East Holiday Park for 14 big4-shepparton-east-logoyears. They are an independent member of BIG4 Holiday Parks franchise, which has parks all around Australia. They currently have 23 self-contained cabins, 12 ensuite  powered sites, powered caravan & tent sites and 12 mobile homes. The park predominantly caters for the family market. Both Kym & Kaye have made significant capital investment into technology and their park ensuring it has some of the best family friendly facilities like giant jumping pillow, solar heated pool, synthetic grass tennis court, pedal go-karts, recreation room and camp kitchens.

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Falls Creek – a digital economy contradiction

For the latest in our series on digital economy planning in Victoria’s North East we spoke to David Herman, CEO of Falls Creek Resort Management. This article explores some of the issues that we discussed with David, looking at current and future infrastructure needs for Falls Creek, and more generally at broadband connectivity issues for alpine communities in Australia.

Falls Creek is a location facing a major challenge with digital infrastructure. In 2012, the Australian ski industry is highly developed in its use of digital media to communicate with visitors from Australia and around the world. This has been vital for marketing the regions in the lead up to and during each ski season, and for communicating with visitors after they arrive. Victoria’s alpine resorts have also looked to develop sustainable industries outside the main winter boom, such as all-season tourism options. However, their plans for the future are overshadowed by the potential for limited or no access to the high-speed broadband services that are expected to transform the economies of other regional towns.

In many regards, Australia’s alpine resorts are some of our most sophisticated regions in terms of their adoption of digital technologies. Weather reports, snowfalls, news, events and other information is sent out hourly via the Falls Creek website and social media accounts. This year, the resort became the first Australian town to be equipped with Near-Field Computing (NFC) technology – allowing visitors to over 50 local businesses to instantly access resort information via their smartphones.

The town transforms during the winter, as visitors flock to the region. Each year, telecommunications infrastructure is placed under greater strain as visitors bring more mobile devices with them. This year telecommunication services could not keep up with the increased demand – leaving Falls Creek visitors with limited access while the company struggled to increase capacity. The resort’s mobile network is expected to improve, but it demonstrated the problems that Falls Creek faces when demand from visitors outstrips the resources available to the town.

Currently, Victoria’s alpine resorts are not included in the NBN rollout plan. The remote location and low permanent population of each resort count against them, and Falls Creek Management has been informed that the resort is not listed at present to receive NBN access. The town has a relatively small population outside of the peak season, with only 250 permanent residents – although they are an important tourism hub, receiving approximately 600,000 visitors each year. During the 18 week ski season alone, close to 400,000 people arrive in the resort village.

Regional advantages

The benefits of living 1,600 metres above sea level aren’t limited to snow on the slopes. Around the world, alpine regions are beginning to use their low temperatures and high altitude locations as competitive regional advantages. The development of sustainable all-season tourism options has been a priority for Falls Creek.

Falls Creek is already used by many athletes for high altitude training, between November and March each year. High-profile teams like the Melbourne Rebels and Geelong Football Club have begun sending their players up to the mountains for physical conditioning on the region’s running trails, cycling routes and lake courses. To further develop their capacity in this area, the resort is planning a $30 million Altitude Training Facility – incorporating football field, gym, swimming pool and sports medicine facilities. This would fill a local niche for specialist high altitude facilities, such as those offered by the USOC’s flagship training centre in Colorado Springs.

Even outside the ski season, low temperatures can be an advantage. As Australia moves to a more service-oriented economy, cloud computing options for software and data storage are increasingly important. Data centres generate a lot of heat, and cooling them to workable temperatures requires vast amounts of energy. Across the northern hemisphere, tech giants have begun to build their newest data centres in cold regions – making use of the low ambient temperatures to reduce their energy consumption. These include Facebook’s new data center in Lulea, Sweden, Yahoo’s hydro-powered facility in Lockport, New York State and Google’s €200 million investment in Hamina, Finland. The scale of these developments show that major players in this industry are serious about the benefits of operating in these regions.

With only 0.01% of Australia’s surface area in alpine regions, we have a limited number of communities that could take advantage of their natural cold climate; developing new industries to service a digital economy while reducing our environmental impact. Leaving resort communities like Falls Creek ‘off the grid’ of the national broadband network seems a short-sighted plan: successful alpine towns around the world are showing that the mountains are far more than just a winter holiday destination.

Craft beer, brewery trails and Bridge Road Brewers

For the latest in our series of Hume region business case studies, we spoke to Ben Kraus – owner of Beechworth’s award winning Bridge Road Brewers.

Business overview

Bridge Road Brewery started in 2004, moving to the old coach house on Ford Street and opening to the public in 2005. Today, the Beechworth brewery also operates as a bar and pizzeria, and their beer is sold around Australia. At the 2012 Australian International Beer Awards, the brewery brought home ten awards for their products.

Web and social media

  • The Bridge Road Brewers website has been a key part of the brewery marketing strategy since they opened, providing brewery and beer information, an online store, and links to the business’ social media profiles.
  • The brewery is listed on several information portals – however, Ben notes that it can be difficult keeping information current across all of them. Beechworth now has three different online directories, leading to a lot of duplicated information.
  • Staff are very active on social media, using Tweetdeck to manage their Twitter and Facebook accounts. They also receive alerts from keyword searches – listening for public discussions about Beechworth, their beers and the brewery name. The latest print run of beer labels now have the Bridge Road Twitter and Facebook accounts listed, in addition to the website.
  • The brewery has been trialling Google AdWords for around six months. They generally don’t target people who are already searching for the brewery, as Beechworth is far enough away from the major cities that it needs a special trip to come and visit. Instead, the AdWords campaign focuses on people who are looking for information about buying beer online – directing customers to the online store.
  • Currently, online direct sales are fairly low in volume, but the store infrastructure is now in place to handle higher demand for this in future.

Brewery trails

Beer tourism attracts some very serious beer fans, who plan trips based around brewery visits – much like the visitors to the region’s vineyards and wineries. These fans tend to be very active on social media – letting people know where they’re going, picking up extra cartons for friends back at home, and reviewing the places that they visit. Websites like the Crafty Pint and Brews News cater to fans of the craft beers and microbreweries.

Bridge Road Brewers are also part of the High Country Brewery Trail – a collaboration with Black Dog BreweryBright Brewery and the Sweetwater Brewing Company to encourage visitors to visit the high country and explore the four breweries.

Ratings and reviews

Like many of the businesses we’ve interviewed for the Digital Hume project, Bridge Road Brewers are listed on TripAdvisor. Generally, the brewery staff check review sites after busy periods like school holidays and long weekends, when many more customers are visiting the town. These also tend to place the most pressure on the business, when the brewery is most likely to book out their dinner tables. TripAdvisor is one of the most popular websites for restaurant and accommodation reviews, but Ben notes that the size and number of reviewers on the site can cause problems. When anyone can leave a review, there are no controls over whether those people actually visited the business – potentially letting inaccurate reviews bias potential visitors.

The review websites, blogs and forums used by the community of craft beer fans are generally seen as more valuable to the business, as they get exposure for the brewery among an audience who are more likely to travel out to the brewery, order online, or sign up for a Posse membership. As with any small business, it’s important to understand your target market and know where to find them online.

Communication and coordination at the Outdoor Education Group

For our latest Hume business case study, we spoke with Greg Caleo from OEG – the Outdoor Education Group, about how the Eildon-based company is communicating with customers and staff across the country.

Business overview

The Outdoor Education Group is one of the largest providers of journey-based outdoor education in Australia. Over the last 27 years we have delivered over 2 million student days in the outdoors. We have around 140 permanent staff in Victoria and NSW, and run school programs across Australia. These run from one-day to four-week expeditions, including dedicated Duke of Edinburgh Adventurous Journey programs. The majority of these programs are journey based and operate in public land, such as National Parks and State Forests. They typically involve activities such as bushwalking, canoeing, cycling, sea kayaking and rock climbing.

Tell us about the web technologies you are using in the business

We have a public-facing website, providing information on our programs, outdoor education resources and contact details. The site also has a clients-only area where students, staff and parents can access information about their own programs.

Behind the scenes, we run various pieces of technology to communicate between offices and staff. Landline phones using a VOIP system, a large intranet, and VPN access to the network are some of the ways we communicate internally.

What benefits have you gained from using these tools?

As OEG is managed from many different locations, communication and coordination is key for us. Having resources able to be accessed from different parts of the country is very important for us to be able to deliver outldoor education. In particular, having our scheduling and prediction systems widely available has allowed people to be more aware of the “big picture”.

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the NBN arrives?

Just having actual high speed broadband with our current systems will be a big improvement, both at the server and client ends. It will mean that users can access bigger “chunks” of data at a time. We would also be hoping to improve our videoconferencing abilities, as well as being able to have more media content available online, like videos and podcasts.

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies?

Running businesses from rural areas can be made easier by having good systems. These need not be enormous applications; sometimes just being able to share and view calendars is a big step up! It is important to pick the technologies and applications that suit what you are trying to achieve, then put time into them so that they work in the best way for your business. Regardless of the different needs we have, a reliable high-speed network will improve all types of use!

What’s your business up to online? If you run or work in a business in the Hume region and would like to share your story, contact us here.

Regional promotions – social media and tourism at the Regional City of Wangaratta

For the latest addition to our series on local government in Victoria’s North East, we spoke to Emma Keith – Tourism Development Officer at the Rural City of Wangaratta.

 

Key facilities in the Wangaratta council all have active social media platforms, chosen to complement their existing promotions. These are being used to build and engaging with local audiences, and to reach out to prospective visitors. Wangaratta’s visitor information centre currently uses a YouTube channel, lists their walking tours on TripAdvisor and Facebook, and has begun dabbling in Twitter and Pinterest. Similarly, the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre has built up a successful Facebook presence, with over 900 followers and 1,000 location check-ins. They have taken a personable approach, sharing ‘behind the scenes’ photos and stories with friends of the Arts Centre.

Another example of successful online activity in the region is the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail – a cycling route connecting Wangaratta, Rutherglen, Beechworth, Myrtleford and Bright, linking visitors to local food, wine and accommodation. The trail is actively promoted on many social media channels, such as TripAdvisor, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook.

Emma notes that the local wine makers are very active in regional promotion, particularly through initiatives like King Valley Prosecco Road wine trail. Wineries like Dal Zotto, Pizzini and Brown Brothers use Twitter to share stories from the region, helping to raise awareness of the region, and engage people during their stay. “When they come to the vineyard, they feel like they are already part of that conversation – like they already know the people behind the cellar doors.” The council has also heard of local wineries using Twitter to organise direct sales to B2B and wholesale customers.

While many of Wangaratta’s arts and tourism promotions are highly active on social media, Emma also discusses ways to help those who are still lagging behind. Some businesses are reluctant to start as they feel that setting up and learning to use a social media account may be too complex or time consuming. Improving access to social media training and mentoring helps to overcome this barrier, giving businesses the confidence to get involved in this new economy.

Wangaratta Council is beginning a 12 month project on YouTube that will encourage local residents to contribute user generated content in the form of a 90 second video grab. These give people the opportunity to share the “best things in their own back yard” in their own words. For this, the council hopes to act as facilitators – allowing people to talk within the community, instead of sending official messages in to them.

The council also began trialling Facebook ads earlier in 2012, for tourism promotions around the NAB Cup match to be held at the Wangaratta Showgrounds. They created a series of ads with destination-focussed imagery, designed to inspire and motivate different groups, improving attendance at these events. Initial ads targeted fairly broad demographics, aimed at people in Melbourne and regional NSW. Local operators saw an immediate increase in demand, with some selling out events across the long weekend. The range of statistics available from these campaigns provide a great deal of insight to council into the demographics for these events, such as the location, age, and other interests of the people involved. These can be used to further refine the promotion of other events in the region.

Case study: Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides

For our latest case study, we spoke to Michael Watson about how Mansfield’s Watson’s Mountain Country Trail Rides have developed an online presence for their business.

Business overview

Watson’s Trail Rides is a family business, and has operated from our property in Mansfield for the past 30 years. Most of our customers come from two sectors: domestic “free independent travellers” and school groups. We also have regular bookings from international and corporate groups. As a small business, it’s been important for us to be in control of our web presence. If our events, availability or other details change, we need to be able to change the content of our site quickly.

Which web or social media technologies are you using for your business?

  • We manage our own website. This is a central place for people to find out about our business, and we update it several times a week.
  • I also keep an eye on our website analytics roughly once a month. That lets us see how many people look at the site, and where they come from.
  • We have been using an online booking system on our website for about four years now. Around half of our bookings are made online.
  • Over time, we’ve added other tools. YouTube was one of the earliest, allowing us to show people what it’s like on our rides.
  • A more recent addition is our Facebook page – helping us to promote the business on social networks, in addition to our website. We use the page to keep people updated on what the business has been doing, and have photo galleries from some of our major events.
  • TripAdvisor had been very handy for us. It’s more commonly used for accommodation, but has a growing number of event and experience listings. I was wary about putting customer testimonials on our website, as they rarely feel authentic. TripAdvisor acts as an impartial third party – by linking to their reviews, we can show people directly what customers have said about the business.

What have been the benefits of using these?

Our online presence helps people to discover our business, provides them with a personal experience of who we are and what we do, and also takes care of around half of our bookings. It can sometimes be hard finding time to manage it all, but it’s extremely valuable for us.

Operating in an industry that traditionally doesn’t have a strong online presence has its advantages. There aren’t a lot of trail riding companies out there, compared with much more active sectors like tourist accommodation. That helps us to remain visible in search engines, without being drowned out by hundreds of other sites.

Do you have any tips for other business managers wanting to get online?

If you don’t think that your business needs a web presence, think about things from the perspective of your customers: when and where are they likely to want information about your business? For a tourism operator, much of the planning that goes into a family holiday will take place at home, after working hours – when your business won’t be able to answer enquiries directly. Your website can help people discover your business, and also helps answer a lot of questions the customers will have.

You can find out more about Watson’s Trail Rides via their website or Facebook page.

Connecting local producers with customers at Walker Events

Mansfield’s Walker Events is an events management business with an environmentally friendly ethos at its core. We spoke with business owner Alli Walker about how she uses social media and the web to promote her business. 

Business overview

We started in 2009,  and run a suite of three core events, aimed at promoting the many facets of sustainability. These are the monthly Mansfield Farmers’ Market, the twice yearly Sustainable House Tours and the newly introduced Regional Farm Gate Tours. Our customers are mostly Victorian, with a mix of locals, regional and Melbourne-based.

Which web or social media technologies are you using in your business?

  • We started off with a farmer’s market web page – this was used as the portal for all information pertaining to the market. Stallholder enquiries and applications are all handled online through the web page.
  • As the other events grew in their following and strengths, we created a second web page for Walker Events. This allowed us to introduce devotees of the farmers’ market to the other facets of our business. Both web pages are updated on average once per week and cross-promote each other.
  • Both web pages are attached to a MailChimp database, allowing people to sign up to our email newsletter. This is used for promoting all facets of the business. Using MailChimp takes away a lot of the work (subscribers/unsusbcribers, etc) involved with keeping the database up to date.
  • Twitter and Facebook also play a large part in the marketing of the business. The farmers’ market has its own Facebook business page which is used to communicate general foodie news and promotions as well as market information.  Twitter is used as a means to create relationships with producers, other markets, people interested in food as well as media contacts.
  • We are just starting to use YouTube to record different experiences – we have a business YouTube channel which is another way to showcase our experiences.
  • As a business that prides itself on being environmentally sustainable, being a part of the digital space in such a big way helps us to reduce the amount of paper and other resources that we use.

What have been the benefits of using these?

We embraced digital marketing from the very beginning, simply because it was something that could be managed in-house. The media contacts that we have made online have been of enormous assistance with PR and marketing.

Contacts made through Twitter have created some huge benefits for the business, as well as for individual producers who attend the market. In particular, one of our producers was “introduced” over Twitter. This was noticed by some high-level chefs, and as a consequence is now supplying product to several hatted restaurants.  Word of mouth recommendations are vitally important when it comes to local produce and the use of Twitter in this instance was hugely successful.

What benefits do you think the NBN will have for your business?

At the moment, slow internet and frequent drop outs that can occur through our wireless internet connection mean that something that should take half an hour ends up taking half a day. Constant and controlled broadband access will make many of our tasks much easier.

Do you have any tips for other business managers who may be looking at getting online?

Don’t be scared! There is no need to jump into everything all at once – start slowly. Ask questions. Read books and blogs. Attend workshops and professional development. Keep learning and make the most of the opportunities that are available.

You can connect with Walker Events on Twitter at @MansfieldFM, and on the Mansfield Farmer’s Market Facebook page.

Wangaratta Gateway Hotel Embraces The Digital Economy

Website: http://wangarattagateway.com.au

The Wangaratta Gateway Hotel is privately owned and operated by the  Jones Hotel Group. It is known for its personalised service, stylish accommodation and superior facilities. Located in the heart of Wangaratta, the 4.5 star hotel boasts 76 accommodation suites and apartments, the largest north east Victorian conference venue and event facilities and a stylish restaurant. For 20 years, Wendy Lester has owned and operated the hotel. Not only has she undertaken a large physical extension to the facility (in 2008) but she has also extended the Hotel’s presence online. She recently told us about her experiences.

Tell us about your market and customers
Our 5 major markets are Corporate, Leisure, Conference, Groups and Functions. Our customers are largely corporates, and we have a very high percentage of return customers. Our clients are mainly from Melbourne and regional Victoria including locals.

What are your Key Challenges?
A major challenge is keeping up with the technology that our clients experience in City locations. The expectation from clients is that we offer the same services as our city competitors. To do this we must embrace web technologies and the digital economy.

What web technologies are you using in the business?

  • Our Website, http://wangarattagateway.com.au is the central hub of our online presence. It allows clients to book rooms directly, to purchase gift vouchers, send e-postcards, and to join our mailing list. We are also on many 3rd party websites for reservations which we manage via a channel manager (Levart)
  • Google Analytics to track activity on the website
  • We use webinars for online training (example software include GoToMeeting.com and Webex.com)
  • Review sites such as Tripadvisor.com
  • We have an iPhone application that is linked to our Property Management System (PMS)
  • We use the Choice Hotels Online University  for training
  • We are currently developing a social media strategy to allow us to start strategically using tools like Facebook

What benefits have you gained from using these tools?
We have seen a  massive increase in online bookings (as with the rest of the industry). We get better rate parity and we can promote last room availability. We can promote a room on 30 different sites and when the room is sold  it is removed from all sites. Our booking tool also allows to move rates around a lot more, ensuring we optimise our pricing.

How do you plan to use high speed broadband in your business when the high-speed broadband arrives?
Anything that increases our speed will be great for us as well as our clients. I think our conference market will see the most benefit.

What advice do you have for other businesses who want to maximise their use of web technologies?
Make sure you develop and update your site on a regular basis.

Do you run a business in the Hume Region that uses the internet effectively? Send us your insights and opinions.