Architectural Tactics for Dispersing Tourism: Lessons from Australia’s Great Ocean Road

In the idyllic landscapes along Australia’s famed Great Ocean Road, the economic and social impact of architectural interventions has become a focal point, addressing the dearth of accommodations in the inland regions. The challenge of attracting tourists to these areas while strengthening the local communities unveils compelling success stories in three distinct domains: the towns, the hinterlands, and a thematic trail. Amidst this exploration lies a crucial lesson: the renovation of small town centers and innovative repurposing of buildings can revitalize these regions, preserving their heritage and bolstering local economies. Clara Copiglia tells us more.

[Above: The 12 Apostles sea stack formations, a highlight on the Great Ocean Road, which is visible at top of frame. Photo: Jonathan Tourtellot]

Inspiration along the Great Ocean Road

Back in September 2018, I embarked on a weekend trip to the renowned Great Ocean Road, a scenic drive along the south coast of Victoria, Australia. Due to our modest budget, my partner and I opted for an overnight stay away from the seashore. As night descended, we journeyed an hour north from the coastline and found the inviting glow of the Mount Noorat Hotel, the sole source of warmth and light in the tranquil rural darkness. We were the only tourists staying in the hotel that night, and during our short visit, we learned from the hotel’s owner that it was the only place left in the area for local inhabitants to meet and for tourists to sleep.

From that day on, I was determined to understand the economic and social impact of places like this hotel. Were there others?

A map of the research area. The red dots represent points of interest for visitors such as hotels, restaurants, lookouts, and recreational areas. [Map courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

The Great Ocean Road is the most visited destination in Victoria. While it attracts around 6 million visitors per year, half of them being day-trippers, the inland region lacks much accommodation for visitors and has been losing population. How could architectural actions increase tourism appeal and strengthen the local community?

At the beginning of 2023, two years after completing my architectural degree, I returned to this area to study renovated buildings located inland that impact visitor numbers. You can download the complete report as a pdf.

Here are examples from the research, focusing on success stories and organized in three parts: The towns, the hinterland, and a thematic trail.

The Inland Towns

As most visitors travel by car or tourist coach, they will likely pass through many regional towns and see their streetscapes, usually composed of storefronts and hotels. Originally, storefronts were food shops, blacksmith shops, bakeries, etc., while hotels provided accommodations for visitors and a pub. Today, many storefronts are abandoned or have been converted into private houses, and many hotels are closed.

In Noorat, I found that the previous owner of the Mount Noorat Hotel had decided to sell during the COVID-19 pandemic, The Blain Family, a couple and their parents, bought the place to save it from closing down or being converted to housing. They took over the hotel while running a dairy business at the same time. The hotel is a place of meeting for the community, where locals and tourists encounter and sometimes gather, during bushfires, a place of refuge.

The historic Mount Noorat Hotel, built in 1909. [Photo courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

The Mount Noorat Hotel had been renovated first by the previous owner, who I met back in 2018. He took off the fake ceiling and repainted the interior, giving it a warm atmosphere. On the second floor, the hotel has a few well-renovated rooms that bring travelers to Noorat who discover the area or visit relatives. Aided by some local-government funding from Corangamite Shire, the Blain family has taken over the renovation and plans an outdoor seating area.

Lesson learned: In small regional communities, there is often a space that can both serve as a gathering place for locals and host visitors. It is essential to identify these types of buildings and care for them. In the case of Noorat, the hotel is kept open thanks to devoted locals and government help.

In other towns in the area, in addition to hotels, these buildings might include converted churches, storefronts, halls, etc. There are many simple ways to upgrade those spaces like adding openings, creating an outdoor covered space, which would transform it into a welcoming place for both community and visitors. Storefront establishments, for instance, can gain appeal by sprucing up the façade and adding skylights or a back terrace.

The Hinterlands

In between the towns inland from the Great Ocean Road, the landscape varies from tropical forest to plains punctuated by extinct volcanoes, lakes, and farms. But relatively few visitors come compared to the seashore.

I found one demonstration project that does bring tourism inland. Innovative accommodations such as tiny houses are a great way to promote these regional areas, as they bring visitors to the doorsteps of the locals wanting their business. Ample, an Australian company specializing in transportable living spaces, was approached by Visit Victoria – the state’s primary tourism and event company – to propose a touristic off-grid tiny house called ‘Stella the Stargazer’.

Stella was moved every eight weeks to different locations in Victoria, including the Great Ocean Road region. The tiny house is placed on farm properties to highlight the natural landscape, and a chef collaborates with locals to provide visitors with food products from the area. The farmers get paid rent and don’t have to manage the bookings.

The remarkable tiny house, ‘Stella the Stargazer’, with its clever design and unique amenities. [Photos courtesy of Brook James and Greta Punch]

Stella was mostly built with reclaimed materials; its truss and cladding come from an old local farm shed that Ample dismantled. Stella is entirely off-grid with solar panels; it can harvest rainwater, and the grey water goes into into holding tanks. Nothing is left on-site.

Lessons learned: Having the tiny house as an accommodation for tourists is a great opportunity for a second revenue stream for locals by bringing visitors to areas outside towns. It offers visitors a chance to stay in a natural landscape while connecting with local residents with products to share.

Thematic Trail

To connect town centers on the coast with businesses in the hinterlands, the ‘Gourmet Trail’ grew from adaptive re-use of an old building.

Two local dairy farmers, Caroline and Tim Marwood, converted an abandonned railway shed in the town of Timboon into a distillery. They created an extension, added large windows and an outdoor seating space.

This new attraction brought many new visitors, and Caroline and Tim opened an Ice Creamery and accommodations in Timboon. They received $200,000 from the Victorian Government to fund the renovation of the Distillery. The Distillery and Ice Creamery generated a visitor hub within the community, encouraging visitors to explore the streets of Timboon. The two establishments have around 70,000 visitors per year and employ between 25 and 30 local people each.

Family-owned Timboon Distillery specializes in single malt whisky. [Photo courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

After the renovation of the railway shed, local producers started formalizing an itinerary between the Distillery and other production places, such as a cheesery and a winery. The idea was to promote each other’s products, make visitors stay longer, and disseminate visitation in the area. The main support for extending visitor reach is a map distributed in visitor centers and all gourmet trail businesses.

Today, the trail is comprised of nine members, located within a radius of 30 km, all producers from the Corangamite Shire. They created a membership system with a monetary contribution to fund the branding, and they meet regularly to enhance the trail and evaluate new memberships.

The businesses in rural areas on the Gourmet Trail repurpose commonly found types of buildings on farms, such as metal sheds, converting them for tourism activity. For example, the latest member of the Gourmet Trail is Keayang Maar Vineyard, located between Cobden and Teerang. The building has one part for storage and another for wine tasting. You can see this dual use in the shape of the building, which shows a large and high space on one side, and the form of the roof adapt its shape to create  a covered outdoor area for visitors.

Lesson learned: The Gourmet trail works well because creative renovation of old buildings combined with local products helps entice tourists to detour inland from the popular Great Ocean Road. Some of these businesses also provide new meeting spaces for locals.

A diagram mapping the buildings in the Hinterlands area and possible renovations. [Photo courtesy of Clara Copiglia]

Conclusion

My research area covered two shires. I found that renovating buildings in small town centers, such as hotels, storefronts, and standalone buildings, is crucial for attracting tourism and combating depopulation. This investment can help create a more vibrant atmosphere, preserve historic landmarks, and boost the local economy.

In the rural hinterlands farmers and entrepreneurs can introduce new buildings, such as tiny houses for tourists, or work with the existing metal shed landscape by introducing new purposes for this common building.

While working on this project, I stayed at the Mount Noorat Hotel – one of the first guests to book a room for a longer stay. While talking with some of the locals in the Hotel’s pub one evening, I heard the rumor that the abandoned butter factory near the center had found a new owner. I wonder what the plan is for this building and if it will bring more visitors to Noorat? Will it serve the community? An opportunity awaits.

Architecture & Placemaking

[The Teshima Art Museum (above) in Naoshima, Japan brought economic prosperity to a small island in decline. Photo from https://benesse-artsite.jp/en/]

Editor for this page: Clara Copiglia

Illustrations of Relationships Between Architecture and Tourism.
This page collects lessons about the impact of architectural projects on place-making, restoration, or recovery. These projects range from small installations to larger strategies that impact the surrounding territory – territory is defined here as the context of the project, its environment, community, culture, and economy.

We invite you to help expand its content.

Larger themes – depopulation, nature appeal, indigenous communities, ruins care, and overtourism  – frame the various case studies below. An example illustrates each category. You can find an extensive collection of such examples here.

Depopulation
Architecture can become a tool against depopulation. Renovations or new construction projects can revive rural or urban destinations in decline when they integrate the local community, landscape, and an understanding of local history.

Rural Example – Naoshima Island, Japan

Photo from https://benesse-artsite.jp/en/

Naoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, experienced drastic population loss in the 1960s. At the same time, a wealthy businessman was looking for a home for his art collection. He hired Tadao Ando, a world-famous architect, to build a museum on Naoshima. Today, Naoshima Island is a major art destination, where visitors cruise on electric bikes and local life has return. The island now has multiple new museums and art installations. Renovated traditional buildings house a bathhouse, restaurants, accommodations, and art. But Naoshima was only the beginning of the Seto sea island’s transformation. Other Islands, such as Teshima and Inujima, followed Naoshima’s path.

Urban Example MassMoca, United States

Photo from massmoca.org

Once a thriving manufacturing town with an increasing population, the mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts, faced financial trouble in 1984 with the shutdown of local companies. Thomas Krens, the director of Williams College Museum of Art (who later became Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum), was looking for a space to exhibit large contemporary art pieces. North Adam’s mayor proposed an empty factory in the town, and in 1999, the world’s largest contemporary art museum was born. Today, North Adams revolves around art, and MassMoca (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) brought economic prosperity and tourism.

Nature Appeal
Architectural projects can invite visitors to step into nature by creating new attractions. The project can create a new path in nature or sit along an existing path, reviving it.

Example Festival des Cabanes, France

Photo from www.lefestivaldescabanes.com

The Festival des Cabanes – Small Pavilions Festival– is an annual architecture event near Annecy, France. Every year, architecture students and young architects participate in a competition to construct 12 wooden pavilions spread out in the area south of Lake Annecy. Each pavilion stays from Spring to Autumn and is dismantled at the end of the exhibition. The festival invites visitors to this natural region instead of limiting tourism to the popular lakeshore. Equipped with a map, the visitors walk in nature to reach the pavilions constructed by the competition’s participants. This festival gives a unique opportunity for young architects and brings tourists to rural areas.

Indigenous Communities
Some projects can create a meeting place between indigenous communities and visitors, where tourists can learn about local traditions and history. The indigenous community should set the intentions of the project.

Example Krakani Lumi, Australia

Photo from www.taylorandhinds.com.au

Krakani Lumi – Place of Rest – is a series of pavilions on a guided walk in Tasmania. The palawa community owns the land and operates the 4-day/3-night journey called the ‘wukalina walk’. The architects collaborated with the Aboriginal Land Council of Tasmania to create unique campsites where visitors can rest and learn about traditions. The tectonic and materiality of the project pay homage to the First Tasmanians and their land. The exterior of the pavilions is made of charred Tasmanian timber to blend with their surroundings. The architects had the buildings prefabricated off-site to minimize impact on the land.

Ruins Care
Due to financial and political constraints, many ruins are difficult to maintain and renovate. Adaptive reuse projects or participatory tourism provide sustainable strategies to care for ruins.

Example Canova Association, Italy

Photo from www.canovacanova.com

The Canova Association is a nonprofit founded in 2022. Its goal is to bring awareness to stone architecture in Nava, Italy. In collaboration with the municipality, the association facilitates acquiring and restoring the small medieval village’s stone buildings. The non-profit organizes guided tours for tourists to discover the village, events for its members, and workshops dedicated to architectural restoration.

Overtourism Mitigation
Overtourism is the opposite of sustainable tourism. Various policies help resist this scourge, and architectural or territorial interventions can also be part of the solution by creating alternative paths and attractions.

Example Alternative Moray, Peru

Photo from nanotourism.aaschool.ac.uk  This photo shows one of the small installations on the alternative path. The students traced circles to materialize a place for storytelling about the site, narrated by local inhabitants.

The AA Nanotourism Visiting School is a teaching program developed by the Architectural Association, School of Architecture, London, UK. Each year, they organize workshops with architecture students and young architects about sustainable tourism. In 2019, the workshop took place in Moray, one of Peru’s most popular Inca sites. The students collected the community’s history and proposed an alternative path for visiting Moray. Small installations invite visitors to get away from the touristic route to learn about the local community and participate in activities.