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Tourism WA conceeds ultramarathon management failures

Tourism WA conceeds ultramarathon management failures
May 22, 2012

The ultramarathon tragedy that left two women runners with life-threatening burns may have affected the reputation of Tourism WA, a Western Australian Parliamentary inquiry has heard.

Kate Sanderson and Turia Pitt suffered extensive burns while running in the 100 kilometre race in the Kimberley region in the State's northwest last September. Two men, Michael Hull and Martin Van Der Merwe, suffered less serious burns.

Organised by Hong Kong company Racing The Planet, the ultramarathon was staged between Kununurra, Gibb River Road and El Questro Wilderness Park.

The Western Australian Government's Economics and Industry Standing Committee inquiry has investigated whether more could have been done to stop the runners being burnt and whether proper protocols were in place.

Tourism WA, the Western Australian tourism agency, was a sponsor of the event and had planned to provide $170,000 to Beyond Action to film the event, although it only paid $85,000.

Tourism WA Chair Kate Lamont told the inquiry that it was standard practice to form a partnership with an event if Tourism WA wanted footage to promote tourism in the area, stating "we didn't expect to get the footage for free."

Lamont said Tourism WA had planned to pay an additional $105,000 to Racing The Planet to help make sure the event was well run because it "seemed to be a reasonable amount."

However, Racing the Planet never received the funding because of the bushfire.

Tourism WA Chief Executive Stephanie Buckland admitted the pre-event assessment process needed to be reviewed and improved, including risk assessment plans for each event.

Buckland said while the incident had not affected tourism in WA, it had affected the reputation of Tourism WA.

However, both Buckland and Lamont emphasised that Tourism WA was only a sponsor and not a manager of the event.

Buckland also conceded that Tourism WA only "sighted" but did not obtain copies of a public liability insurance policy taken out by the event organisers despite the insurance being part of its sponsorship contract.

Buckland also admitted that there had been shortcomings in the sponsorship procedures and to mistakes in Tourism WA's submission for Government funding that had suggested there would be 100 competitors from 30 countries ï¾ when ultimately there had only been about 40.

The submission also failed to mention that a competitor in another race organised by Racing The Planet had died while Buckland also said she was not aware of problems with the 2010 Kimberley Ultramarathon.

Buckland stated "I think, in hindsight, it would have been appropriate for the event holders to advise us if there had been issues in the past... and if they had made amendments to their processes. "

Her admission came after Eventscorp Director of Event Development Glenn Hamilton, told the inquiry he did not read the risk assessment plan before the 2011 Kimberley Ultramarathon and had conducted only rudimentary "desktop research'' including website checks and reading online forum discussions in his assessment of Racing The Planet's credentials.

The inquiry is due to report back to the Western Australian Government by 21st June while future Kimberley Ultramarathon events have been axed.

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