Casey councillor Wayne Smith says a ratepayer-funded trip to Arizona, USA, to investigate a lantern festival in the Christmas-New Year period is not a holiday.
The trip sends Cr Smith and Casey’s China engagement officer to the Phoenix Light and Lantern Festival for a week in preparation for a proposed lantern event in Casey in 2019.
“Phoenix is not a holiday tourist destination. That’s not my agenda; it’s not even possible,” Cr Smith said.
The trip was estimated to cost $5500 in airfares, accommodation and car rental – though Cr Smith says he won’t hire a car and will stay in a cheap hotel.
The trip will probably cost about $3500 – a small investment compared to the potential tourism returns, he said.
The delegation had been invited by the Sichuan Lantern Company, which organised transport and meetings at the event.
Cr Smith said the trip would involve examining the Phoenix event’s logistics that couldn’t be learnt on the internet.
The festival’s land, parking and electricity requirements as well as sponsors and partnerships are some of the areas he will investigate.
“I’m very experienced and interested in big events – that’s my background.
“It’s not something to do via the internet. You have to do business with (Chinese companies) in person.”
Cr Smith had met with the lantern company during Casey’s delegation to China in April.
He defended his history of council-funded travel and conferences.
Despite copping criticism, his trips to the US to research anti-graffiti strategies had “proven to be worthwhile” and saved the council “hundreds of thousands” of dollars.
“It’s like the old saying, you have to spend money to make money.”
The Phoenix Festival – the largest of its type in the US – includes about 75 Lights of the World lantern displays.
The Casey lights event would be at least initially smaller than the Phoenix festival, Cr Smith said.
It would be about the size of Frankston’s two-month sand-sculpture festival, drawing thousands of tourists as well as millions of tourist dollars.
The event would be a particular attraction to Melbourne’s Chinese community – including 14,000 in Casey.
It would be nothing like lantern festivals in Dandenong and Lynbrook, or indeed Australia.
“I said to a resident this week, I reckon this will be an event you’ll want to come to and you’ll love it.
“The expression ‘lantern festival’ doesn’t do it justice. In Phoenix, they call it ‘Lights of the World’.”
The council approved the trip on 5 December despite dissenting councillor Rosalie Crestani saying the trip didn’t meet the “pub test”.
It “looks bad” especially during the Christmas-New Year period, Cr Crestani said.
The Casey version, proposed for the former civic centre site near Bunjil Place, would be smaller.
It was expected to be the size of Frankston’s sand-sculpture drawcard,
The lantern festival was also expected to require “some financial support” from Casey as well as a suitable site, according to a council report.
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