WHAT if everyone booked their accommodation directly with the hotels and motels?

What if everyone booked their holiday experiences/services directly with the operators?

There would be no middleman. No percentage of profits going out of the pockets of local tourism operators to large international booking sites such as Wotif, Trivago and Bookings.com

Call me cynical, but when a company such as Wotif claims my hometown of Coffs Harbour has won, "Wotif's 2020 Aussie Town of the Year" my first reaction is not one of jumping up and down with civic pride.

Don't get me wrong, Coffs Harbour deserves to be awarded as a fantastic place to live or holiday.

We have it all; friendly people, beautiful beaches, stunning landscapes, vibrant festivals and markets, diverse dining and plenty of adventure and activities.

This time last year the Coffs Coast Advocate reported Tourism Research Australia's visitation figures showing domestically the number of holiday-makers visiting Coffs Harbour had risen to 2,806,301, a growth of 600,000 from the previous period in 2010/11.

So, when a marketing company sends an embargoed press release about a "town of the year" award for online bookings masquerading as news, it raises the question; who stands to benefit from an award like this?

Wotif managing director Daniel Finch said: "During what is an incredibly tough time for many parts of the country, this year's awards are more relevant that ever as a way of recognising the hardworking tourism operators and local businesses who make up Australian tourism - the driving force behind many regional communities."

He's right. Times are tough for regional tourism. But how (or who) is this award going to help?

Ongoing drought, devastating bushfires nationwide and now the announcement of Tiger Air's intention to stop direct flights from Melbourne and Sydney to Coffs Harbour have impacted our local operators.

National advertising campaigns asking us to all to "holiday at home" are a great idea but only if the profits stay "at home".

In September 2018, former Coffs Coast resident and entrepreneur, Dick Smith took a stand against online accommodation booking sites such as Wotif, Expedia and Bookings.com after a motelier raised the issue on radio of the reportedly high commissions.

His view was supported by many Coffs Coast industry stakeholders.

With half of Australians now using these websites, Dick Smith campaigned for Aussies to book directly with accommodation providers to stop tax-free tourism dollars flowing offshore and for money to stay with the local operators.

Saturating every market, it's almost impossible to escape the advertising and lure of online booking companies stating they offer the cheapest rates for online accommodation bookings across Australia. Dick Smith said these companies pay "big bucks to Google" to ensure their links appear at the top of the landing pages.

So maybe it's time the public give their own awards to towns like Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Dapto and the 'Back of Bourke' by scrolling a little further down the online page and putting their dollars into the hands of regional locals.

There's always a deal to be made if you cut out the middleman and book direct.



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