BOOK Book Lavender farmer Lillian Bye has one short-fused answer as to why people should visit the Riverina: “Why not!”
“Even if you don’t step out of the car you can have a better time than in Sydney or Melbourne,” she said.
“It’s so diverse; lavender, wheat, fruit, wine, canola, nice people – where else can you get that? We’ve lived here all our lives and we’re never leaving.”
It came as no surprise to Mrs Bye that Wagga had been ranked seven on Flight Centre’s top 10 Australian destinations for 2016 – a move that groups the city with the “big boys” of Australian tourism in Uluru and the Whitsundays.
“We’ve had visitors from everywhere,” she said. “Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia, Darwin. You name it.”
This is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people over seven years.Riverina Regional Tourism executive officer Sonia Casanova
But Riverina Regional Tourism (RRT) was surprised – if not, feeling validated that big-ticket tourism events seem to be finally having national impact.
The recognition comes just weeks after a leading demographer, Bernard Salt, named the Riverina as a trending destination because of its “authentic” experiences.
According to Flight Centre data, Wagga attracted a substantial increase in Victorian visitors in October last year – a 166 per cent rise on the year before.
Significantly, the upswing coincides with the Taste Riverina festival – a region-wide event designed to put “paddock to plate” food and agricultural tourism front and centre.
“This is the result of a lot of hard work by a lot of people over seven years,” RRT executive officer Sonia Casanova said. “As locals we tend to underestimate the value of tourism in the Riverina. We shouldn’t because now is our time.”
Veteran tourism operator Greg Lawrence, RRT’s chairman, said the ranking boded well for the entire Riverina, with Wagga seen as the “launch pad” to the food bowl.
“Let’s be blunt: we’re no longer a steak and veg kind of people,” he said.
“We’re a lot more attune to what we’re eating.
“If you can get visitor here, they can discover a whole pantry of food and agriculture from Gundagai to Cootamundra to Griffith.
“To have that recognition from Flight Centre, one of the leading travel agencies, is a big pat on the back for all the tourism operators in the Riverina.”
Wagga saw a number of new food-based events last year including Spring Street Festival, Cork and Fork and the revamped Gears and Beers festival.
Flight Centre’s top 10 travel destinations in 2016
- Hayman Island
- Port Macquarie
Where Wagga’s tourists came from, according to Flight Centre
Visitors in April from NSW - up 49 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in October from NSW - up 50 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in December from NSW - up 10 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in April from QLD - up 26 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in December from QLD - up 16 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in October* from VIC - up 166 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in December from VIC - up 50 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
Visitors in December from WA - up 30 per cent compared with same travel month in 2014
*October is the month of the Taste Riverina food festival