Linda had been on a three-day horse-riding trek, with nine others, in order to go 'Brumby Spotting'. Once a regular horse rider who competed in a range of events, she had never been on a holiday like this. She had never cantered across a wide open plain in moleskins, handling a stock horse called Ash, with only the sound of hoofs striking the ground beneath, and a herd of Brumbies 'spotted' galloping on the far horizon.
She reported that she felt a sudden urge to begin yelling out lines from The Man From Snowy River, but restrained herself to avoid startling her riding companions.
M V Tronson recommends her story as a good read, if you are interested in more details about the trek – including what they ate, where they slept, what they saw and all the other interesting things.
He saw parallels between a trek such as this and his own mission, which included Australia's Bush Orchestra during the time his family lived in Moruya on the New South Wales south coast. The Bush orchestra ran from 1996-2005.
Visitors could roam through an Ironbark forest enjoying the bird song of the Bell Miner. It was a similar type of small boutique tourist experience as the Brumby Spotting trek, even if on a smaller and less expensive scale.
He saw further similarities when he and his wife, Delma, were visiting Albany on the far south coast of Western Australia recently. They were impressed with the tourist site called the Old Fort, which has a number of well-researched exhibitions including information about the HMAS Perth, which has now been sunk as a dive reef.
"There are some really important issues associated with such boutique tourism offerings," explained Mark Tronson. "They are increasing in number and should be given a lot more promotion. However, they often have specific issues that need to be addressed if the 'right' clients are to be attracted to them."
Many of these smaller tourist activities are affiliated with the outdoors. Those mentioned thus far all fall into this category; as do some of the outback tours, including those which show visitors aspects of 'bush food' and 'traditional indigenous culture'. For logistical reasons, safety reasons, and the personalised and educational nature of these operations, the numbers on each tour must be kept small.
This is the very aspect that makes the boutique tours attractive to those who want a more wholesome or realistic activity; and not one seen as sanitised, overly-indulgent or insipid as many of the resorts and tours and cruises that are advertised to the mass market appear to be.
Because of their eccentricity and their necessarily small clientele, the boutique tours struggle with marketing and promotion. This is due both to monetary restraints and the lack of interest official tourist centres in anything that does not engage coach loads of cashed-up tourists who are staying in top line motels, whose excesses in spending can help to fund the Shire's tourist offices.
However, as Mark Tronson has written on previous occasions, those visitors who love getting off the beaten track, and experiencing something truly different from their everyday life, are more satisfied and go home talking about those things rather than 'another motel, another shopping centre, another hotel or restaurant meal'.
They are the ones more likely to come back to the same region, over and over again. Although they may not spend the 'big bucks', they will contribute to the overall economy in smaller, more sustainable ways, every time they come. They are more likely to patronise the local shops, movie theatres, sports-hire places, clubs, restaurants, lower-end accommodation, and even buy copies of the local paper.
Yet, in his experience, as chairman of the Moruya Tourism Committee for several years, Shire Tourist offices often demand high fees from these very small tourism boutique operators and give little in return; while supporting and engaging the big end of town.
"So where do we go from here?" asks M V Tronson, who has written many articles and delivered several seminars on this topic.
He offers these following suggestions for reflection.
He thinks it is a misnomer to confuse the word 'tourism' with 'small business'. Although obviously some tourist attractions 'are' businesses, this is not always the case so they should not be seen as 'equivalent' by the Shire Councils when fees and levies are mooted. There should be some room for manoeuvre according to the income or profits generated.
When he and his wife visited Albany on Mission, they had one day dedicated to seeing the sites, and they carefully chose a few things to suit their own interest, such as looking at rock formations, scenic views over the Sound, the railway yards, waterways and the yachting wharf at Emu Point. None of the actual sites they saw on their 'day off' cost money; and none involved an outlay of expenses to set up. They were 'tourism attractions', but they were not 'businesses'.
However, people do need to patronise small businesses when they visit an area as tourists, even if their chosen sightseeing is free. Using his recent trip again as an example, he needed to spend money on accommodation and meals, and, as part of the formal business of his mission tour, he needed to buy a ticket to visit the Old Fort Museum. Now this is both 'tourism' and a 'business' because it involves outlay of resources, hiring of staff, maintenance and research – and these costs need to be recovered.
So it seems obvious to a careful observer that there needs to be a distinction made by the Shire Councils or Tourism offices between sightseeing that costs no money, and may even be subsidised by the Council (eg by clear signs, roads, parking areas etc as in the Blue Mountains near Sydney); and those really small businesses that cater for the boutique customer (as the Brumby Spotting trek and the Bush Orchestra experience) , and the large-scale expensive tours or attractions (perhaps like Disneyland as an extreme example) where people expect to pay.
Those 'businesses' which are reaping the highest rewards from tourists should be expected to pay higher fees than more modest operators; and perhaps these levies can subsidise the promotion and signage for some of the more relaxed scenic attractions of the Shire so that more people, and people with a more diverse range of interests, will come to the area.
For all these reasons, careful and thoughtful publicity promotion is necessary. In M V Tronson's view, a lot of money is sometimes wasted on the Shire's Tourist Magazines which are too expensive; whereas the privately run visitors' booklet is usually better value and a whole lot cheaper. Printing flyers in bulk can be wasteful too; by printing a few off on a home computer and placing them strategically each week, and ensuring the information is right up to date, Mark Tronson says he has saved some small operators several thousand dollars in a year.
Small boutique tourist operators have a very good product; and like the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it needs to be communicated effectively and in a discerning way. It can be likened to the message of Proverbs (19 verse 8) which states "He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul; he that keepeth understanding shall find good."