Welcome to city is ‘criminal’

Adam PoulsenGeraldton Guardian

Geraldton’s entry signs paint the town as a crime hotspot when they should be spruiking its magnificent coastline.

That’s the view of Tourism Australia aquatic and coastal ambassador Brad Farmer, who said Geraldton was scaring people away from an untapped tourism “goldmine”.

Mr Farmer has examined and explored Australia’s beaches for more than 30 years and co-wrote the book 101 Best Australian Beaches.

He said Geraldton was one of the crowns on the Australian coast but “the marketing could be better”.

“As people drive into Geraldton, the first sign they see is for Crime Stoppers, and then the second one says ‘Burglars Beware’,” he said.

“That’s their welcome to the region — and it’s sending out a warning signal to tourists not to stop.

“People I’ve spoken to say they just drove straight through because they felt it’s not a safe place, and that leaves the business owners wanting.

“You go to other parts of Australia and they have billboards that say ‘you are entering one of the great coastal stretches of Australia, come and enjoy it with us’.

“But there’s nothing like that in Geraldton.”

Mid West Gascoyne Police District Superintendent Mike Bell said he disagreed with Mr Farmer’s assessment.

“I think it demonstrates that as a community we are embracing all our members to be vigilant to crime, and it shows that we are responding to crime as a community issue responsibly,” Supt Bell said.

He said tourists had nothing to fear and Geraldton had actually seen a reduction in crime over the past two years.

Mr Farmer said Geraldton’s coast had been undersold for too long.

“I think the goose that lays the golden egg for this region is the coastline,” he said.

“The Geraldton community has a great deal of potential if it’s prepared to step up to the plate and sell itself, because it’s sitting on a goldmine.”

Progress Midwest general manager Trish Palmonari welcomed Mr Farmer’s comments, saying they gave the City a valuable outsider’s perspective.

“I think feedback from these kind of people is critical, because quite often you can sit among your own community and not see things,” she said.

“I have the same thought every time I drive back from Perth.

“I don’t think it creates the best image for people that are passing through, so I think there’s a better way of doing things.”

Ms Palmonari said Progress Midwest was working on a destination management plan that would address the city’s image.

“The next stage of that is the development of a marketing plan which will look at how we promote Geraldton and look at our branding,” she said.

The City of Greater Geraldton has invited Mr Farmer to offer ideas and suggestions for the future of coastal tourism in the area to a closed council committee.

“I’d be happy to be part of the solution, talking to council and MPs about how to improve or how to package Geraldton as what it should be — one of the crowns in the Australian coast,” Mr Farmer said.

However, he cautioned it was important to ensure efforts to attract tourists were done in a tasteful and appropriate way.

“I think most people don’t want busloads of packaged tourists arriving,” Mr Farmer said.

“But if it’s managed properly, it could be an incredible badge of honour for the city and an incredible generator of pleasure and income for both locals and tourists alike.”

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