Port Douglas back in the class room.

Yesterday (Thursday) saw the opening seminar hosted by the Port Douglas Chamber of Commerce at the Sheraton Mirage, entitled 'Introduction to Port Douglas'. 

The eagerly anticipated Melbourne Business School (MBS) students and tutors were given an insight into Port Douglas by a panel of it's selected prominent representatives and major stakeholders in the region in front of an audience of about 100 interested locals.

 After a welcome from Mayor Val Schier, local speakers took to the lecturn to lay out their own view of and vision for revitalizing Port Douglas. 

 Speakers included Port  Douglas Chamber of Commerce President Ken Dobbs, TPDD Executive Officer Doug Ryan, CRC Division 10 Councillor Julia Leu, owner of Poseidon Reef Cruises Steve Edmonson, architect Gary Hunt, local businessman and manager of the MBS project Doug Calvert and General Manager of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, Lachlan Walker. 

 A fascinating initial four-hour session exposed a plethora of opinions, ideas and plans.

 Highlights from the individual presentation included Ken Dobbs presentation on how the accommodation sector has evolved since the building of the Sheraton Mirage Resort complex in 1988. 

 It's interestng to note that in 2004 guest nights peaked at 1.084 million with a value of $83.5 million but by 2011 they had slumped to 914,000 with a value of just $63.7million down some $20 million. 

 Mr Dobbs demonstrated how this was not just a Port Douglas problem and in fact competitors like Palm Cove had performed even worse over the same period.

 Doug Calvert, owner of four retail outlets in town, set out how the retail sector had performed over the last year and admitted that there were significant challenges facing Port. 

 Division 10 Councillor Julia Leu explained several major landmark events in the development of the old Douglas Shire community leading through to the role of present local government.  She hoped that this would help put Port Douglas in perspective to the rest of the Cairns region.

 It's interesting to note that Division 10 which includes Port Douglas is larger than all the other divisions of Cairns put together.  Her consistent hope is that with the distinctive environment and unique needs of the Port Douglas and surrounding region that it will be acknowledged for the value that it brings to Cairns.

 TPDD Executive Officer Doug Ryan explained his organisations role in marketing the destination and set out many of the problems that have affected the results for the region over the past few years.

 It was a breath of fresh air when Steve Edmondson, Director of Marketing for Poseidon and Owner Operator of Sailaway , gave the first genuinely positive presentation of the morning when he set out the experience that his Great Barrier Reef tour companies have worked through during the last difficult year. 

 He believes the key to the success they have achieved is based on their single minded promotional message of trying to inspire visitors to 'travel and experience'.  And it is the quality of that experience that is the key to success regardless of the negativity often come against from the strength of the Aussie Dollar, the GFC and the weather or at least the erroneous and often over sensational media reporting of the weather.  If these threats are faced and action plans implemented to combat them then sustainable success can be achieved.

 Architect Gary Hunt continued this positive message as he took us on a fascinating journey through the development of Port Douglas from pre-Sheraton days.  He is a passionate advocate for the need of more catalytic (but appropriate) development in Port Douglas. 

 He believes this can be achieved, for example, within the Sheraton Mirage complex plus the various developments that are currently laying dormant around the region due to lack of current market confidence, such as the Havana/Hilton, Mango Beach, Whispering Palms and the Marina.  He suggested, that to help combat this lack of confidence, support should be given to the development of the comprehensive conference centre planned for the Sheraton Mirage Sunbird Shopping Centre car park because it created so many spin offs for the rest of the town. 

 Everything he laid out before the assembly, he believed could be funded with incentives for developers, streamlining the approval processes and encouraging banks to support the new projects. He warned that without a stimulus plan to re-establish confidence in the area then it was going to be very difficult to evolve the market with supply  of appropriate product.

 Lachlan Walker General Manager of the Sheraton Mirage, concluded the individual presentations with a video and talk on the plans to recapture the business that he believes has been lost over recent times and with the use of online technology and social media and the refurbishment plan being implemented by the new owners they can capitalize on their quarter 2 and 3 growth rates.

 When the original itinerary was circulated on behalf of MBS, it seemed an awesome schedule.  But this initial four hour session came to its close all too quickly and the collected audience found themselves concluding the morning  with a question and answer session with a regrouped panel.  Head Consultant Selwyn D'Souza then set out the terms of reference for the project for the students and the focus groups planned over the next two days.

 These seminars started at the Community Hall in Mowbray Street just one hour after the close of the Sheraton Mirage morning session demonstrating the determination of the MBS students to capitalize on their time in our midst. 

 The focus groups are covering topics such as 'Five year strategic plans', 'Marketing', Technology and innovation', 'Economic development ', 'local council perspective' and 'Social and Community'. 

 The plan is to produce a document from all the focus groups and one on one conversations which sets out a five year plan to 'Revitalize Port Douglas'.  What Port Douglas does with that plan, of course , is entirely up to Port Douglas. 

We are assured that The Cairns Regional Council, who have participated in this program,  are eagerly waiting the results of the MBS study with the intention of including this plan in the forthcoming economic and diversity proposals for Port Douglas.

 It is an interesting thought that the conclusions for the five year plan that will be drawn up by this eminent group could well include and be a confirmation of many of the ideas that a number of innovative individuals have been proposing for some time (many years in some cases) but because these ideas will be presented by an independent body, they could finally be heard and implemented rather than ignored as they have been to date.

 Perhaps the most important outcome for our community leaders and ourselves from this exercise will be to listen in the first place, we might just learn something!

 More reports from the focus groups to follow....News first on The Newsport.