Regional tourism growth is not universal - The Good Oil by Rod Brown

The tourism industry spends a lot of time talking things up, but the sad fact is that tourism numbers are falling in quite a few regions.

As the table shows, there have been some big falls in overnight visitor trips to some regions since the turn of the century. I’m advised that the 33 per cent drop in the Upper Yarra region of Victoria is mainly due to the loss of tourism infrastructure following the Black Saturday fires of 2009. The Whitsundays, Queensland, too have suffered from Cyclone Yasi damage. But the big mystery are the 11 per cent falls in the Blue Mountains and Central Coast of New South Wales (NSW) – whatever the causes, these are broad-based, resilient economies that can weather those downturns.  

Overnight visitor trips – negative growth regions (‘000)

But it’s the decline in tourism activity in the more distant regions like the Wimmera, Mallee, Murray and Outback NSW that is the big cause for concern. They’ve suffered droughts, water buy-back schemes and significant population losses over the last generation or two, and tourism has been touted as their saviour. Indeed there has been an army of tourism officers and local champions devoted to the cause. 

The possible reasons for these declines are:

  • High domestic airfares e.g. Sydney to Broken Hill airfare is $1366 return, which is more than to/from Europe.
  • Motoring costs e.g. the cost of petrol outside the capitals.
  • The lack of tourism product and/or the lack of appreciation of that product.
  • People being time poor i.e. apart from Grey Nomads and backpackers, few are willing to spend hours driving.
  • The flat population growth of many regional centres, thus limiting the growth of regional aviation traffic and the lowering of airfares.

I tried to run these possibilities past the tourism policy expert in the federal government, but couldn’t find any such person. The tourism function is now buried in Austrade of all places as a result of the Abbott Government cutbacks, and Austrade’s mandate doesn’t extend to regional or domestic tourism. This basically leaves the Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF), state tourism agencies and individual local councils to progress initiatives in this field.

So let me try three ideas on you, the denizens of local government.

1. The big problem facing regional Australia is the lack of critical mass and consequently high transport and travel costs. Could regional stakeholders mount a big lobbying effort to convince the feds and state governments about relocation incentives to get balanced development? This critical mass thing will take decades to achieve – so let’s start now!

2. International tourists are having longer holidays Downunder – the 6-7 day rush around a few hotspots is becoming less common. So let’s galvanise inbound tourism operators to offer three day bus trips from Alice Springs down through Coober Pedy, the Flinders Ranges and the Barossa. They’d see the real Outback, drink in a real pub, eat kangaroo steaks, fossick for opals and appreciate the haunting landscapes and sunsets. Similarly, Qantas could drop tourists into its birthplace of Longreach (Stockman’s Hall of Fame) and arrange tour buses down through Blackall, Charleville, Roma, Toowoomba etc. Hotel/motel owners would need to get their food and accommodation up-to-scratch. They’d also have to lobby (with local councils) because it won’t happen of its own accord.

3. Tourists’ familiarity with rural and remote towns is usually very basic. Wiki entries on particular towns are pretty uninspiring, and glossy brochures tend to be too general. Could we interest local councils to engage expert travel writers to reveal brilliant reasons why tourists should visit rural towns, and to upload the articles onto the websites that tourists mostly use?  As one travel writer commented “we need to target the growing numbers that are too lazy, obese, couch-bound and risk-averse to even think of venturing out of wi-fi range.”

If you are thinking along the same lines, please contact us.

Hewson no shrinking violet
Former Liberal leader John Hewson was in his element last month, launching a new book, “Fair Share: Competing Claims and Australia’s Economic Future” at the National Library.  

The gist of the book, written by Dr Michael Keating and Professor Stephen Bell, is that the big economic problem is the continuing stagnation of aggregate demand across the developed economies.
They argue that an investment-led economic recovery is highly unlikely while the growth of aggregate demand remains sluggish. Since pump priming is not an option because of huge public debts, governments are now looking for other ways to stimulate aggregate demand. In this context rising inequality is the prime cause of the continuing economic stagnation because the rich have a lower propensity to spend. This explains the calls for growth in wages, especially for low-income households.

Hewson is an impressive, independent thinker. He suggested that the tax burden would need to be around three per cent higher if the nation was to fulfil its social and environmental objectives. He also railed about the lack of scrutiny of defence expenditure, opportunistic and short term government policies, and the loss of faith in our politicians and the governing class. Could he make a
comeback please?

Rod Brown is a Canberra-based consultant and lobbyist specialising in industry/regional development, investment attraction and clusters, and accessing federal grants. He also runs the Cockatoo Network.
Phone: (02) 6231 7261 or 0412 922 559
Blog: (750+articles)