Red, Red Whine

Neil Diamond will perform at Townsville's 1300 SMILES Stadium on 20 March 2017 IMAGE: Supplied

Last week’s announcement that Neil Diamond will kick off the Australian leg of his 50 Year Anniversary World Tour in Townsville is great news.

Townsville is regularly snubbed by touring artists and, if all goes well, this could pave the way for many more acts to stop by our city when they visit Australian shores. (I also have distinct memories of channelling my inner 70-year-old for a brief but intense love-affair with Neil’s Greatest Hits when I was about 11. Seriously, I would have tossed my training bra at him given half the chance!) But the news has also fuelled a long-burning frustration that live music and arts events are not being sufficiently utilised as a drawcard to attract visitors to Townsville.

For me, the whole thing reeks of “great concept, terrible execution” and this is why:

Music and arts should be a year-round focus.

A 2015 study by the University of Tasmania found that live music has at least a 3:1 benefit-to-cost ratio and that approximately one in five people is willing to travel more than 50km (including from interstate or overseas) to attend a live music event. In Sydney and Melbourne, music and theatre consistently rank as two of the highest drivers of tourism year-after-year; and in Hobart, the opening of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) created a 40 per cent spike in tourism (up to 2,500 people per day, at its peak) in just two months, with ongoing growth thereafter.

Townsville Enterprise (TEL) and Townsville City Council both predict Neil Diamond’s show will have a significant economic impact for our region, with TEL’s General Manager Bridget Woods saying each visitor generated by the event will inject an average $254 per day they stay into local businesses.

“We do think the uptake for Neil Diamond won’t just be from our location, but from the region more broadly,” said Bridget. “So I couldn’t give you an exact figure at this point in time, but we do expect the hotels to benefit substantially from this event happening in Townsville.”

Imagine the economic impact if we were bringing stadiums-worth of people into town on a regular basis!

Yet, Townsville continues to sell snorkelling, mountain biking and football as its trump cards to southern (opposition-supporting, if not AFL-loving) visitors.

We keep wheeling out the Golden Oldies

Again: “Neil Diamond, take my training bra!”

But in recent years 1300 SMILES Stadium’s star-studded line-up has been spear-headed by Elton John, Cold Chisel and Keith Urban. Yes, all solid, crowd-drawing, uber-talented musos; but why aren’t we looking to woo someone a little more contemporary?!?!

According to Bridget: “The reason we’ve chosen to work so closely on this particular act is we believe it’s the right fit for our market and for our region, not just our city but our region more broadly. Neil Diamond is an internationally renowned artist and to have someone of his calibre in our city is absolutely the image that we want to match with our destination.”

OK, cool, but of the people willing to travel for live music gigs 59% are aged 15-44 years and 32% earn less than $30,000 a year (Apprentices, uni students, new grads – raise yo’ hands).

We are continuing to miss the hip young travellers and leak talented up-and-comers to bigger cities, because even our civic leaders have written Townsville off as a tired, granny-panty wearing (read: throwing) population that couldn’t possibly support music recorded in the last 20 years, unless it falls into the country genre.

And speaking of country music… (which, btw, I also love!)

Poor Neil has a lot of competition that week

“They key to the success of this event will be the community embracing the opportunity to see someone of Neil Diamond’s calibre in our own city and it’s crucial that the ticket sales perform strongly so that gives the promoters confidence to come back and place another event in our location,” said Bridget.

I would love to be singing Sweet Caroline on the top of my lungs on March 20, but I bought tickets to Ed Sheeran’s Brisbane show that night months ago. As I’m sure many other Townsville music-lovers did. And if they’re not going to Ed, maybe they’ll be in Ipswich two days before for CMC Rocks or staying home and rocking it 90s style with Montell Jordan, Sisqo, Naughty by Nature, et al at Reid Park on the same Tuesday night. If our pool of music-lovers is as small as our tourism body would have us believe, perhaps it isn’t so wise to split the vote four ways. A little market intelligence would have easily remedied that kerfuffle.

Music and arts are vastly under-represented in Townsville’s tourism mix

Only one arts event/experience was named a Finalist at the recent Townsville Tourism Awards (congratulations to the Australian Festival of Chamber Music for ultimately taking that award home).

Now I don’t know whether that’s a case of the tourism industry failing to recognise the value of the arts, or the arts industry failing to recognise its tourism value; but it’s gotta stop!

To their credit, TEL has identified the same trend: “I guess in the major events space [music and arts are] definitely an area we want to improve and we’re looking to improve,” Bridget said. “Townsville Enterprise commissioned, earlier this year, a report called Barriers to Major Events Report and that’s enabled us to work with promoters across Australia to understand why they’re not bringing events here, so we do acknowledge that we haven’t been receiving, what we perceive to be our share of the larger events… Following the commissioning of this report we formed the Event Collective Committee, which was set up to address some of the big issues raised in the report. One of them was that collaborating between major stakeholders to ensure the events are successful when they come to Townsville, which is why we’ve been able to deliver this Neil Diamond event so successfully.”

It’s a step in the right direction, but I strongly believe we should also be looking inward to nurture the tourism products of existing, local arts organisations for a more sustainable, recurrent offering to hang Townsville’s hat on.

This year, I’ve been to at least a dozen events that could easily have national or international appeal if marketed the right way. To rattle off just a few: Theatre iNQ’s Frankenstein, Council’s Strand Ephemera, Umbrella Studio’s Pop Up North Queensland, Dancenorth’s Tomorrowmakers, Renegade Handmade Markets, and any of the countless shows that featured NIDA and/or WAPA graduates. A number of major contemporary music acts have also visited Townsville this year, that were arguably under-marketed to both locals and potential visitors (most likely the venue and/or promoters’ doing).

If we really want to be the Events Capital of Queensland – as I keep hearing Councillors and tourism operators claim – the Arts and Tourism industries need to pull in the same direction to establish and market a more balanced spread of events across the full 12-month calendar and to prove to visitors that you can be entertained in Townsville all year ‘round. Because you can be!

For Event Organisers:
Townsville Enterprise encourages all event organisers to create a free event listing on the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW). The ATDW feeds TEL’s online events calendar, and events listed before 30 November will be considered for inclusion in TEL’s 2018 events marketing campaign, to be launched late January 2018. To register on the ATDW, click here.

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1 Comment

  • Really interesting article! I hate the idea some people have that Townsville lacks in culture – it’s anything but! It would be great for more people to see Townsville as a destination to see top quality shows (and some locals to learn that, too) – be it international artists performing here, or local shows of national and international quality. I travel to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to see shows from time to time, so why shouldn’t people down south travel here for shows, too.

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