TOURISM is absolutely vital to Central West councils, but the sector can only increase if you know where you're starting, Western Research Institute (WRI) chief executive officer Kathy Woolley said.
While some larger councils in the region have their own tourism departments and researchers, many smaller local government areas (LGA) do not.
"The smaller councils really struggle to get solid tourism data ... many of these places don't have current and accurate data," Ms Woolley said.
"But, tourism factors in everyone's community strategic plan for every one of those councils."
The WRI will soon launch a tourism research strategy that will target tourists who visit LGAs across the region.
"It'll be a really quick tablet-based survey to ask: where they've come from, where they've stayed, what they spent, the number of people travelling and the length of their stay," Ms Woolley said.
The smaller councils really struggle to get solid tourism data ... many of these places don't have current and accurate data.Western Research Institute (WRI) chief executive officer Kathy Woolley
"We'll be able to get an estimate of the visitor economy in each LGA that's participating.
"We'll collect data via the survey and it'll also look at what people are saying on social media or Trip Advisor."
Ms Woolley said data could also be used by councils to "show what they're worth" in order to help secure state of federal government grants or funding.
"It'll help underpin any funding application because they'll be able to say this is what it's [tourism] worth," Ms Woolley said.
Ms Woolley said councils could also make better tourism marketing decisions if they had access to current and accurate data.
"That way they're getting their best bang for their buck," she said.
The research survey is expected to start in coming months.
"By the end of the year we'll have some hard data starting to flow through," she said.
Ms Woolley said increasing tourism numbers in the Central West was possible and a number of factors worked in the favour of the region.
"People are interested in the providence of their food and where it grows," she said.
"For example, people come up and pick cherries in our region but we have no idea how many [people] and where they're from."
The research strategy will be piloted in the Central West and then made available to other councils across Australia.
The WRI has contributed $30,000 towards this first project under its Inland Research Fund.
This is a joint initiative with Central NSW Joint Organisation of Councils (formerly CENTROC), Destination NSW Country and Outback, Orange 360 and participating councils.