THE City of Fremantle won the Excellence in Local Government Authority Tourism at the WA Tourism Awards last Saturday night, and also received gold for the This is Fremantle marketing campaign. Congratulations!
I don’t know what criteria applied to be judged excellent at tourism, but is what Fremantle offers visitors really the best we can do?
From my nine years as volunteer tourist guide at the Roundhouse I know that tourists love the historic West End and the friendliness of Freo people, but I also witness many of them looking around lost, because way-finding in the small port city can be a challenge.
Another challenge, that many drivers mention, is finding long-term parking spots. Where are the signs?
How hard can it be to install prominent way-finding signs in the right locations?
For example, J Shed artists have made their own signs, one of them stuck on a fence near the railway crossing at High Street, pointing to the directions of the Maritime Museum and Fishing Boat Harbour because the city has failed to put any signs at Little High Street.
Hence we see puzzled people looking and pointing in all directions, because they have no sense of place and direction.
There is no sign either near the coastal path at Kidogo Arthouse, that points to tourist attractions.
The most frustrating though is the lack of maintenance and care.
Signs are fading and rusting and information panels missing from their bases, amongst other problems.
At least Fremantle Ports acknowledged the problem on their side and have put many new signs on Victoria Quay, trying to connect better to the inner city.
The tourist experience of Fremantle is let down because there are many indications of council neglect.
Freo looks untidy.
Coming from the railway station one is confronted with the uncared look of Pioneer Park, that looks horrible due to the broken reticulation pump. Near the Esplanade Hotel different colours of concrete and wrong size pavers are a visual eyesore along Marine Terrace.
The city-owned derelict Dome building on the Cappuccino Strip needs a coat of paint and cleaning.
Homeless people sleep there and it looks a mess. And what is going on with the Carriage cafe on the Esplanade? It has been closed for many months.
There are also not enough locations for tourists to find seats that offer shade. The summer heat in Freo can be difficult to cope with for people from overseas.
The steps to the historic Roundhouse, the oldest public building in WA, look a mess and should have been repaired long ago. All the content preparation work has been done by the Fremantle Volunteer Heritage Guides on new interpretive displays for the old gaol. They are ready to go, but Fremantle Council appears not interested in funding them.
It would also be nice to have some shaded seats on the grass next to the old prison, so that people who climb up the steps can have a rest. A water fountain up on the historic hill would also be appreciated by many who end up on Arthur’s Head out of breath.
But is is not only the City of Fremantle that needs to lift its tourism game. The Fremantle hospitality industry could also make a better effort at making overseas visitors feel more welcome, by offering menus in multiple languages, especially for those who can’t understand and read our alphabet, such as people from Japan, Korea, China, etc.
I believe that Fremantle could offer more to tourists. The main attractions here are historic, but there is very little excitement in Freo. It’s a bit dull really. A sleepy old port town.
The new parasailing initiative by the Fishing Boat Harbour traders this summer will no doubt become popular with visitors and locals alike and bring more people to Bathers Beach and the West End.