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Researcher seeks solution to tourism quandary

Tourism researcher Stephen Schwer
Tourism researcher Stephen Schwer

A Charles Darwin University researcher living in the quintessential Outback town Birdsville has begun a tourism research project that could have global consequences.

Northern Institute Masters by research student Stephen Schwer said he hoped to identify a best practice funding model to sustain regional Destination Management Organisations (DMOs), the bodies that promote a location’s tourism assets.

“The overarching question is: can regional Australia’s not-for-profit Destination Management Organisations self-determine their financial sustainability?” Mr Schwer said.

“I’ll survey the 58 Australian DMOs with a view to defining a ‘top 10 list’, which will then become the focus of qualitative analysis.”

Mr Schwer said that while every DMO had a different operational responsibility, typically they serviced industry members, lobbied for their region, marketed their destinations and developed tourism products and infrastructure.

“Not only do they contend with considerable funding pressures, they’re compromised because in Australia, and worldwide too, DMOs are beholden to their primary funding body, which nearly always is a mix of local, state or territory governments.

“So, is financial sustainability for the Destination Management Organisation achievable?”

Mr Schwer said that while the question had long been discussed within the Australian tourism industry, it had not received much academic focus.

“There’s a lack of knowledge about DMO financial models and how these models contribute to the success of tourism in regional and rural Australia.

“My research will attempt to understand the financial context of DMOs in Australia to determine if there is a business model or models that, if adopted across multiple DMOs, could lead to financial self-sustainability.

“I’ll apply the five key measures for financial evaluation in the not-for-profit sector: profitability, liquidity, solvency, efficiency and effectiveness.”

Mr Schwer said that DMOs around the world suffered from insufficient funding to adequately fulfil their goals.

“If I can establish a better way – a financially viable funding model – then we may well have something that could be applied globally as well as in Australia.”

With some 20 years’ experience in the regional tourism sector, Mr Schwer is well placed to undertake the research. He was the Chief Executive Officer of Tourism Central Australia for four years until last month. He is now the Manager Community Sustainability with the Diamantina Shire Council on the edge of the Simpson Desert.