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Outback Queensland Council joins international urban alliance

Mayor Ed Warren with Liu Ge'an, Mayor of Zhangjiajie Municipal Government.JPGAbove: Mayor Ed Warren with Liu Ge'an, Mayor of Zhangjiajie Municipal Government

An Outback Queensland Council has signed up to a new urban alliance at an international summit in China this month.

Longreach Regional Council has joined the Silk Road Urban Alliance, with Mayor Ed Warren signing up to the partnership in a ceremony at the 2018 Silk Road Business Summit in Zhangjiajie, Hunan province.

Mayor Warren attended the summit as a sponsored guest of the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce, a transnational business confederation of over 129 members from 77 countries, including state-level organisations.

Longreach Regional Council says they were approached to join the alliance following a successful visit to the International Mayors Forum on Tourism in Zhengzhou earlier this year. Council’s Economic Development and Tourism Manager, Russell Lowry, said Asian interest in the Longreach region is genuine.

“We’ve only recently started to look seriously at growing international visitation – it hasn’t been a focus for us traditionally. These opportunities to engage in Asia have come about organically so to speak, with the help of local operators. To have been sought out in the way we have been, and given these sponsored opportunities, I think shows just how serious the interest in our region is.”

In addition to attending the summit as a delegate, Mayor Warren was also invited to deliver a keynote address discussing International Cooperation on Tourism. In his address he talked about the opportunities for local governments to cooperate across international borders.

“We are just a small local government – broad scale foreign policy is not our calling. But what we do represent is our community, and we’re here today because we see the potential for a new kind of diplomacy. One practiced not by world leaders but delivered locally, region to region, community to community.”

He told the summit that the alliance was about more than infrastructure. 

“While others focus on the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure being created – we are excited to forge a place in the exchange of ideas that will flow; connecting local communities economically, and culturally, in unanimity.”

In the audience during the Mayor’s speech were local government officials and investment bankers from across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Chief Executive Officer, Ian Bodill, says the time is right to attract foreign investment in the development of the region.

“We’ve seen upwards of $100M in State and Federal investment in growing our Tourism infrastructure in the Central West in the last few years. So there’s definitely an opportunity for new partners to support that investment by delivering new products, new complementary infrastructure and new packages.”

Mayor Warren highlighted some of the work Council was doing in his address.

“We’ve had high level engagement with state and federal governments, industry groups, airlines, inbound and outbound wholesalers – and now our international partners in the Silk Road Urban Alliance.”

The timely invitation for Longreach to join the alliance coincides with an ambitious joint project between Longreach Regional Council and Winton Shire Council to develop a sub-regional tourism strategy. The strategy seeks to pro-actively attract new investment into the local tourism economy, and to capitalise on the sub-region’s offering of Outback visitor experiences that will appeal to new domestic and international markets. 

Council has also been engaging with the state government’s global business agency, Trade and Investment Queensland. Longreach recently hosted a visit by the state’s Trade and Investment Commissioner – Hong Kong, Julie-Anne Nichols, as part of Queensland Export Week. During the visit, businesses in Longreach and surrounds had the opportunity to hear about export opportunities and receive briefings on the Hong Kong market.

Queensland’s network of trade and investment commissioners is responsible for 15 overseas offices operated by Trade and Investment Queensland. The trade and investment commissioners spend most of their time representing Queensland in key export markets — China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, ASEAN (Singapore), Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, India, the Middle East, Latin America, North America, and Europe.

Economic Development and Tourism Manager, Russell Lowry, said it was important to leverage state and federal support.

“There’s a whole ecosystem of support agencies that we’re keen to work with, including tourism bodies, trade associations and the like – we don’t intend to go it alone. We’ll coordinate with those agencies now to figure out where we go from here.”

Council says the Silk Road Urban Alliance opens the region to cultural exchanges and trade cooperation with municipalities from many nations. Upon his return to Longreach this week, Mayor Warren said local businesses could potentially gain access to some of the Northern Hemisphere’s largest and fastest-growing economies. 

“It would be remiss of us not to fully explore these opportunities for new investment into our region. Invitations to engage at an international level don’t come every day. We don’t want to sit on our hands. We’d rather be pro-active and keep an open mind.”

He told reporters global trends could make an impact in even the most remote regions.

“Cities are a symbol of globalisation – it makes sense that municipal governments should form alliances across borders. Our communities may only be tiny – but we can still ‘think globally and act locally’ so to speak. I often talk about us being remote but not isolated.”

Chief Executive Officer, Ian Bodill, said attending the summit in Zhangjiajie had been a beneficial experience. 

“There were plenary sessions and workshops facilitated by some very high calibre delegates and presenters – which offered some useful insights into the context of international development. One thing we heard consistently was the desire for cultural exchange to develop alongside economic trade. There’s a genuine aspiration to foster goodwill between cultures. 

“We think our region offers an authentic cultural experience, so perhaps that will stand in our favour going forward.”

Mr Bodill said other Australians attending the summit had been very encouraging.

“We met with other representatives such as the Australian Consul-General and they were all very positive about the efforts we’re making. We’ve put our region well and truly on the radar of some important people – it will be interesting to see what comes from it.”

He said cautious optimism was the order of the day.

“We are determined to take a measured and long-term view of these opportunities. That’s why we’ve sought independent advice to make sure we engage the market in the most appropriate way.”

Council’s intercultural business consultant, Craig Shim, said developing commercial relationships in Asia requires patience, understanding, and goodwill.

“Deals in Asia can only be done once a sound relationship has been established. Over the past year, Longreach has taken the correct approach by investing time to build a strategic relationship with the Silk Road Urban Alliance and its partners. 

“By presenting broad opportunities for collaboration, Mayor Warren has demonstrated a great deal of cultural intelligence and goodwill, rather than rushing to close short-term contracts, which would be perceived in Asia as being too impersonal, transactional, and possibly untrustworthy. 

“I’ve seen many promising international partnerships fall through simply because the Australian party has failed to understand the Asian business mind-set.

“I am confident that Council’s culturally-informed approach, and its participation in the Silk Road Urban Alliance, gives Longreach and the wider region a competitive advantage from the perspective of Asian businesses seeking tourism and investment opportunities in Australia.”

Mayor Warren hopes the next step will be to host an international delegation in-region.

“We’re hosting the Western Queensland Local Government Association annual convention next year and we are considering whether there’s an opportunity to invite some international delegates to visit us for the event. It’s very early days, so we’ll have to see, but we’re keen to work in partnership with Trade and Investment Queensland to see what we can make happen.

“In the meantime, we’ll continue to work with any and all stakeholders to strengthen ties both culturally and economically.

Read the full text of Mayor Warren's Keynote Address here.