In recent weeks we have seen quite a few call-outs from government and tourist organizations for people to visit regional Victoria and help boost local economies struggling after the Black Summer bush fires. Climbing tourism is obviously an important aspect to some of the regions doing it tough – especially around Grampians and Arapiles. Traditionally climbers stay longer than the average tourist, booking accommodation for weeks at a time and visit in periods usually described as the “off season” – winters and outside of school/public holidays. They may not be the main tourist dollar makers but they help fill in the gaps outside of peak seasons.
It made us think – what is Parks Victoria doing to help attract these valuable climber tourists to the regions? And how are they marketing climbing in public land when compared to other activities such as bush walking and mountain biking? We all know “brand climbing” has been heavily damaged by the bans and media statements from PV management in the last year. Surely they wouldn’t be actively damaging the reputation of climbing (and the outdoor education industry) would they?
There are two current Parks Victoria web pages that relate to climbing. The generic Victoria wide Things To Do – Rock Climbing page and the specific Rock climbing in the Grampians page. A quick scan shows they spend more time focusing on the potential negative impacts of climbing rather than the benefits.
Let’s look at the generic Victoria rock climbing page first, and compare to other pages on Parks Victoria’s website devoted to similar outdoor activates.
Straight away we can see the recent thinking in Parks Victoria’s management at work with their opening line “The best way to enjoy safe and sustainable rock climbing in a national park is with a guide.” Guiding is a tiny fraction of the usual users of rock climbing areas in Victoria but as we have seen at Summer Day Valley it appears this kind of top level control of users is their end game. Anyway – we digress.
A quick breakdown of stats of that page is required here:
The entire page contains 840 words, but less than 160 are devoted to positive messaging about climbing (less than 20%). The rest is a long list of reasons why climbing impacts the environment and potentially impacts cultural heritage. Does this seem welcoming? Certainly not. Anyone considering visiting the area and wanting to try climbing would be thinking they are doing the wrong thing. Many of the reasons given would apply to any visitor to any National Park area – not just climbers. For example, references to creation of informal tracks and bush campsites apply to everyone – not just climbers.
Do these other outdoor activities get the same level of scrutiny on Parks Victoria’s generic website? Let’s compare what else is listed on the Things to Do page. Let’s start with one that has a pretty bad reputation for high impacts – 4WDing.
The website devotes a mighty 130 words to the activity of 4WDing – and not a single mention of any negatives associated with it. Reading that it would seem it’s a total no-impact activity of the highest order and practiced by the best behaved citizens in the State. (queue laughter). How about the 4 legged equivalent?
The horse riding page gets 149 of happy positive messaging. Horses apparently just hover over the landscape leaving no impact. You can see that clearly in their supplied photo – absolutely no impact there. No mention of guides either. What about those evil 2 wheel devotees? Surely mountain biking would get the full force of wrath from Parks Victoria? Apparently not.
How good is bike riding! 423 words of encouragement coming your way guys! Zero mention of the controversies of track building that have blighted this activity for decades. OK – one more to go. This one has some participants quite literally graffiting over Aboriginal art sites, walking over rock quarries, lighting fires on total fireban days, camping illegally in caves and polluting waterways with human crap… hiking and bush walking.
Oh well. Another glowing review of an untouchable activity that according to Parks Victoria’s website has zero impact. 188 words and not single mention of leave no trace ethics.
It is clear that climbers are being singled out here far and above any other user group. If we were in the climbing industry (guides, retail, gyms) we would be kicking up a fuss to Parks Victoria about this negative portrayal of climbing on their website. But that is not the end of it – the negative press continues when you dare click on the dedicated Parks Victoria Grampians Rock Climbing Page. This is a litany of negativity far surpassing the generic page:
If we were being highly generous 148 words out of 1715 are devoted to neutral or positive statements about climbing. That is a staggering 89% negativity index on information provided to the general public about climbing in the Grampians. Where is information about cool places to climb? Inspirational photos to draw in more visitors? Nada. None. Zip.
The damage that information like this does to the climbing tourism industry is hard to quantify. But in a time when regional areas are struggling to stay afloat it amazes us that this is the angle that Parks Victoria is taking. We wonder what the regional tourism body that runs the Visit Grampians website thinks of PV’s approach?
How does this rock climbing page compare to information pages about other Grampians activities like bush walking and 4WDing? Surprise! Those pages don’t exist. They are so blameless PV doesn’t feel it is necessary to give any advice about how to reduce impacts for other activites. Take a look at at the information page about the Hollow Mountain walk for example…
No mention of off-track trail damage (there is plenty!), no mention of damage to rock from graffiti (there is history of that) and no mention of taking care of Aboriginal sites (the track walks straight over a quarry).
So why are climbers being singled out here? We can only presume because they have kicked up a fuss about bans over 33% of the Grampians and more recently at Dec Crag at Arapiles and questioned a lot of the reasons given for the bans.
Roundtable 4 is happening this afternoon – will the shaming of climbers in the public sphere continue?
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