When thousands of passengers step off the cruise liner Radiance of the Seas on January 29, they were due be handed a city guide touting the free Gong Shuttle.
But, if the government’s plan to scrap the free service from that date is not reversed, the guides – 15,000 of which were delivered from the printer the day after Transport NSW’s shock bus announcement – will be misleading.
And, instead of getting out and spending money at Wollongong’s shops, activities and eateries, interstate and overseas tourists will be forced to hunt down an Opal card outlet before they can begin sightseeing.
At a meeting detailing a long list of reasons why the benefits of the free shuttle far outweigh costs to the taxpayer, councillors Tania Brown and Leigh Colacino highlighted its far-reaching tourism benefits.
“We can use this bus as a inducement to attract people to the region – it’s a selling point, and it was a key part of the conversation with [English football teams] Wigan and Hull and the cruise industry expects these type of services at many of the port cities they visit around the world,” Cr Brown said.
She said attracting tourists to Wollongong and ensuring they had a good experience had economic benefits for not only the Illawarra, but the state of NSW.
“The cruise industry is growing – there’s more ships coming into the market each year and they can’t fit in Sydney, so we’re here as a spillover port that will bring genuine economic benefit to this region,” Cr Brown said.
Cr Brown – the chair of Destination Wollongong – also slammed the lack of consultation over the bus fare decision, which meant a strategy recommending the use of the free shuttle for a series of major events next year had already been developed.
“Someone suggested that we get them to push the start date of the bus fares back – but when do you push it back to?” she said.
“We’ve got the Wigan and Hull visit on Febraury 10, and those fans will be here for the week – they’ll be based around the Novotel and we’ve been promoting that they’ll be able to get to the basketball.”
“Then the next ship, which will have 4000 passengers, arrives in March. And really, the bus’s tourism potential is a wonderful spin-off, but it’s first and foremost a service for residents to move about the city.”
Cr Colacino suggested councillors raise their concerns with the state tourism and roads ministers, as he believed Transport Minister Andrew Constance had been “ill-informed” about the flow-on effects of axing the free shuttle. “There is a mistake happening right now and I think it’s because they don’t realise how important this is,” he said.