Where the hell are they?
Hobart Mercury, 11 June 2008
TOURISM has a dirty little secret. We are losing our ``mojo''.
Our numbers of overseas visitors nationally have gone up slightly since 2000 (1.9 per cent), but this is a dismal result compared to the global increase of just over 4 per cent, and much of our growth has been from students and business travellers.
Asia-Pacific as a tourism region is going gangbusters (more than 6 per cent) -- so even our near neighbours are leaving us for dead.
The number of first-time holiday-makers coming to Australia has actually declined in the past seven years. That is very disturbing, given that we rely heavily on repeat visitation. If we're not getting more people to come in the first place, our numbers aren't going up in the future either.
Domestically, we are ``flat-lining'' at best. Low-cost carriers to Asia and a high Australian dollar are luring Aussies offshore in record numbers while we fail to make Australian tourism sexy to locals.
Tasmania has been picking up tourism market share from other states in terms of visitors, visitor nights and expenditure for international visitors (and there is more that can be done to increase that even further). However, our share of the domestic market has been static -- not helped by announced cuts to flights in the past two weeks.
While rising fuel costs and the high dollar are contributing factors to the state of the industry, they are a smokescreen for some of the more deep-seated issues. They alone cannot be blamed for poor performance.
We're not capturing the attention of overseas travellers and we need to make sure we've got the right experiences. We have some but not enough of them.
We need more investment in tourism experiences: new hotels, new attractions, new theme parks and new natural tourism experiences in parks.
Put simply, if you came to Aus
tralia five years ago, what would be new for you to do if you came today? Nothing springs to mind.
Developing new tourism product is inherently risky. You can get a higher return from an office block than you can from a five-star hotel. Even if the returns on tourism investment were higher, you would still have to face miles of red tape within the present state and local planning regimes.
Planning processes are strangling new tourism investment before it can even begin.
In Tasmania, we have seen this with the challenges faced by plans for Crescent Bay and Pumphouse Point at St Clair. They are outstanding projects that will be sensitive to the natural values of their surrounding environments. However, they have had to overcome significant hurdles just to get to the starting line.
Why does that matter? Because more than 14,000 people in Tasmania work in tourism, which is worth more than $2.2 billion to the state's economy every year.
We have to focus on leadership for the industry. Too often we just look at pleasing all destinations by marketing them equally, but we have to have the courage to pick winners.
Not every country town is going to be a tourism mecca. Marketing those areas to a wide audience, with tight budgets, won't change that.
The National Tourism Strategy announced by Canberra will hopefully provide a bold vision for the next 10 years and beyond at a national level.
The Tasmanian Government has been a strong supporter of the local industry, but now's not the time to go soft. We wait to see the tourism allocation in the Budget next week.
Governments can support industry through strong marketing and a healthy and supportive investment climate. However, industry also needs to step up to the plate and accept that it needs to innovate and find new ways to regain its mojo.
Another big TV advertising campaign isn't going to save us, but hard work, innovation and old-fashioned entrepreneurship just might.
Christopher Brown, Managing Director, Tourism & Transport Forum (TTF)