Tenterfield Tourism officer Caitlin Reid samples life state side

Tenterfield Shire Council tourism officer Caitlin Reid has returned home from an overseas jaunt to the US full of ideas for bringing more visitors to town, even if she has to downscale the projects she witnessed in Pennsylvania somewhat.

Caitlin was part of the Australian contingent of the latest Group Study Exchange (GSE) undertaken by Rotary District 7640, which will also be the last exchange for at least for this coming financial year as Rotary resources are directed elsewhere. Caitlin is confident that the exchanges will be back on the agenda in 2017/18 with district governor-elect having fond memories of being a GSE member also to Pennsylvania some 44 years ago, as he told the current crop of GSE participants at the launch of their endeavour.

Caitlin said the selection process back in September to be part of the team was quite rigorous, but she was drawn to the opportunity after being part of a host family for visiting Rotarians while growing up in Echuca, VIC.

“I’ve seen the connections that can be formed through that,” she said.

She and 11 other applicants faced a panel of 12 over a weekend selection process that involved a number of  interviews but also two individual presentations and two group presentations, to gauge how applicants cooperated in a team. 

Caitlin was successful and travelled with three other young professionals, Josephine Bell (a registered nurse from Stanthorpe), Renee Garske (a detective sergeant from the Gold Coast) and Nadia Venzke (a pharmacist from Goondiwindi). The team leader was Bronwyn Lacy from the Gold Coast.

The Australian and US exchange groups’ travel plans overlapped with the US team about a week ahead, meaning they were already in Australian and at the launch party, and able to give Caitlin and her colleagues a heads-up of what was before them. Caitlin said they had also finished their trip and returned home to Pennsylvania  in time to farewell the Australians, warning them that GSE depression once the trip is completed is very real.

Caitlin said the four women got on amazingly-well together and formed the best bonds.

“I just love them all to bits,” she said, admitting it felt odd to be photographed alone for this story, after hundreds of recent photos taken with her arms around her travel companions.

The group had an activity-packed itinerary, and given her specialty Caitlin enjoyed privileged  access to tourism and marketing organisations around Pennsylvania. She was impressed by the initiatives undertaken by what are called Downtown Inc.,  development committees which organise festivals and main street events, and even daily rubbish collections.

The local council provides very basic services, with the membership-driven Downtown Inc. doing the bulk of the promotional and business support activities, funded by an accommodation tax and membership fees.

“The businesses are really involved,” she said.

“It’s wonderful what we could be doing if we work together.”

She will have to downscale the projects a little, though, with tourism organisations like Destination Gettysburg supporting a staff of 14 doing what she does alone in Tenterfield, serving a potential market within a 300 mile radius of 60 million people.

“That’s nearly three times the population of the whole of Australia,” she said.

“The state tourism organisation body had only three people, and they were pretty much maintaining the website.  All the money (for tourism promotion) comes back to the local level and that’s why they can do so much.”

Caitlin was also impressed by how much public art and murals decorated the business precinct. 

She loved Downtown Inc.’s  idea of First Fridays, where the shops and bars remain open late on the first Friday of each month and there’s live music and entertainment to bring people into the main street. While the prospect of a Tenterfield heavy vehicle bypass is daunting for some local businesses, Caitlin sees it as a great opportunity.

“People going through looking for McDonalds are going to bypass us anyway,” she said.

“But there are a lot of positives in having the bypass. It’s really exciting, being able to close the main street for festivals and other activities. Outside dining could be more attractive, without the cattle trucks going past.

“We’ve got time to work on marketing plans and billboards and building brand awareness, a lot of which we’re going now.”

Caitlin also had time to play tourist herself and she was very impressed by the philanthropic nature of Americans in general, visiting an Amish school (“much more colourful than you’d think, although no computers or laptops”); a live-in school for under privileged children and now a medical centre funded by the late chocolatier Milton Hershey; and Leg Up Farm, for special-needs children offering specialist support in a wide range of disciplines for the entire family in a single location.

“There’s seems to be less bureaucracy  there,” Caitlin said. 

“If you have the money, you can do it.”

Caitlin stayed with four different Rotary host families during her tour, with her group making presentations to 15 different Rotary clubs and to the district conference, with Caitlin no doubt singing Tenterfield’s praises at every opportunity.

Rotary funded the entire trip, with its network of members providing connections and access to unique resources such as the Lancaster Waste Authority, which doesn’t sound like a coup but is actually the site of an incredible water-to-energy program, Caitlin said.

“People were so generous and willing to share information. They were excited we were there, and interested in what we were doing.

“I thought I knew a fair bit about Rotary before I left, but found out that’s not the case.”

Caitlin is now going through the process of becoming a Rotary Tenterfield member, joining a “great group of people”.