So much potential to be discovered

TOURISTS WELCOME: The beautiful Hawkesbury River is a major drawcard.
TOURISTS WELCOME: The beautiful Hawkesbury River is a major drawcard.

It was the year 2000 and our region, including the Hawkesbury, Penrith and Blue Mountains was ablaze with excitement, not only about the world’s largest sporting event - the Olympic Games –coming to town, but the possibilities that lay beyond the two-week spectacular.

As someone directly involved in the Games, it seemed at times over the years the promise of tourism growth from our Olympic experience was possibly beyond reach.

Now, 16 years on there’s mixed progress when it comes to investment in tourism growth. In Penrith there’s buzz in the air, and at last it feels like all is aligned and things are happening.

It is promising that Penrith sits tightly in the planning goals of the Greater Sydney Commission and there’s a vision for the city to be a centre for tourism and gateway to the Blue Mountains. 

What about the Hawkesbury? The Hawkesbury has so many wonderful and unique attributes, from its rich heritage to beautiful farms and gardens, cafes and, of course, the Hawkesbury River.

In some respects it feels like all this potential is sitting idle. Even the local tourism website says that the Hawkesbury is one of NSW’s best kept secrets. But scratch the surface and there is a strong desire in the community to inject some new energy into the region’s tourism industry.

It’s going to require a plan, and a lot of collaborative drive to make it happen. Hawkesbury City Council working with the Blue Mountains and Penrith to establish a regional tourism organisation is promising. Connectedness between these three LGAs is going to be important in establishing long-term potential.

Each area has its own strengths and there are many ways to cross-promote and support each other’s growth. As long as they can effectively link and collaborate whilst still being unique, future tourism for the region is very exciting.

Investment also needs to be a priority and from the Penrith perspective, the increased investment by all levels of government into the Nepean River shows Penrith is a city getting ready for the future.

How has this focus on tourism and growth come about in Penrith and does it relate to the Hawkesbury? The promise of great economic opportunity from the new airport is, of course, a driver – but there’s something else.

The Penrith Whitewater Stadium as an Olympic legacy laid the foundations for Penrith to dream of an exciting future, for it to be a visitor destination, not just a place that you pass by on your way to the Blue Mountains.

The Hawkesbury can follow a similar growth path. The NSW Government and Hawkesbury City Council investment in tourism is a good step.

A keystone international event like the World Polo Championships is fantastic in stimulating tourism interest in the region and the event has the potential to leave a similar legacy as the canoeing and rowing championships did for Penrith.

The challenge is to capitalise on more than 5000 visitors spending an anticipated $3 million. The Hawkesbury can do this through clever marketing and a clear, collaborative plan that will extend the interest in the Hawkesbury, after the polo visitors have left.  

The plan needs to be one that everyone supports. It’s fantastic to have strategies for increased tourism and economic growth, but just as important is ensuring the people who live and work in the Hawkesbury are excited about the future, because it is easy to only see things as they are now.

For the small business operator, local resident or visitor to the city, the Hawkesbury has the potential to be on an exciting path. One of the keys to the success of the outcome will be bringing the community along not only for the ride, but giving everyone a role in steering the future.

Melissa Grah-McIntosh

Local writer and community advocate