By Ellen Hill – Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were treated to a crash course on the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, an exchange of Aboriginal cultural gifts and a glimpse at the most visited private attraction in Australia when they visited Echo Point today (April 17).
The visit to the site overlooking the Three Sisters landmark was part of the Royal couple’s whirlwind trip to the Blue Mountains, during which they met with community members affected by the October 2013 bushfires at Winmalee.
At Echo Point, Their Royal Highnesses were met by a Blue Mountains Lithgow & Oberon Tourism (BMLOT) delegation including official escorts BMLOT chief executive officer Randall Walker and Scenic World joint managing director Anthea Hammon.
The Royal couple also met Aboriginal elders associated with the tourism industry, Aunty Sharyn Halls (Gundungurra Aboriginal Heritage Association, The Gully and Ancestral Pathways Walk), Aunty Sharon Brown (Gundungurra Tribal Council, Muggadah Tours and Mulyang Dance Troup) and Uncle Chris Tobin (Darug, artists camp) as well as BMLOT chairman Daniel Myles, Blue Mountains Accommodation & Tourism Association president Eric Sward and Huong Nguyen, owner of one of the largest tourism businesses in the region, the Escarpment Group.
Mr Walker said The Duke was surprised to learn that Echo Point was the most visited natural location in regional Australia, visited by up to 3 million people a year.
“He said the views were spectacular. I told him about the World Heritage Area and he asked if it was part of Blue Mountains National Park (I said that it was).’’
As well as highlighting landmarks in the vista such as the Three Sisters and the Jamison Valley, Mr Walker and Ms Hammon pointed out Scenic World across the valley to Their Royal Highnesses.
The Royal couple were given a brief insight into the economic impact of the bushfires on the tourism industry when The Duke questioned Mr Sward, who is also The Mountain Heritage Hotel general manager. Mr Sward told him that tourism had suffered greatly but was improving.
The Aboriginal elders also presented The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with cultural gifts, and The Duke asked about the cultural significance of Echo Point and the Three Sisters area.
A special edition Prince George teddy bear from Nana’s Teddies & Toys at Blaxland and an information package detailing the Evatt family association with the royal family, compiled by Leuralla Toy & Railway Museum owner Elizabeth Evatt, were presented to a Kensington Palace official earlier in the week to pass on to the Royal couple.
Mr Walker said he was delighted to welcome the royal couple and the world’s media to one of Australia’s most iconic tourism destinations on behalf of the tourism industry, especially after challenging times.
“To be able to raise awareness of the destination in such a high profile and positive way is a fabulous outcome for tourism industry operators and the Blue Mountains community.
“I deeply thank the royal couple for taking the time out of their extraordinarily busy schedule to visit a special historic and Aboriginal place.’’
Ms Hammon said: “As a young woman and family business owner, I’m excited to meet The Duchess of Cambridge and welcome her to our beautiful Blue Mountains region.
“I look forward to sharing with her the stunning Jamison Valley landscapes, hearing about her travels and providing insight into the local tourism industry.’’
BMLOT chairman Daniel Myles also welcomed the honour: “I am very proud that BMLOT was invited to assist in the arrangements for the visit to the Blue Mountains by the young royal couple.
“It is a wonderful secret a very small and tight-lipped group within the official regional tourism organisation has kept faithfully for some time. Many thanks to the select group of Blue Mountains City Council staff who have worked with BMLOT on preparations for this visit.
“The Blue Mountains is one of the most recognisable, not to mention magnificent locations on the planet. It is fitting that one of the most recognisable couples in the world visit it.’’
Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill said: “I see this visit as recognition of the miraculous spirit of our bushfire survivors. They have inspired not just the community of the Blue Mountains but the world who watched as events unfolded.
“The Royal visit will also focus the world’s media on our beautiful tourist areas and showcase that we are open for business. With five hundred jobs lost and a one hundred million dollar decline in our economy since the fires this is a boost we really need.’’