Australia’s tourism industry has moments of optimism when external factors like a falling Aussie dollar auger well for international arrivals. But mainly it’s stuck in a rut, promoting the same experiences and the same, increasingly tired product. No amount of taxpayer funded advertising campaigns will change this fundamental problem.
Recently, the new Queensland Government pulled the pin on a proposed cruise ship terminal for the Gold Coast. According to its proponents, the project would have involved a $6.47 billion construction bill, $840 million in direct infrastructure impacts, 5,000 new jobs in construction and more than 15,000 direct and indirect jobs on completion. What they didn’t add is that it offered the sort of refreshed tourism product that places like the Gold Coast desperately need. These tourism businesses – created without relying on any taxpayer contributions – spend significant sums advertising their destination appeal. They do more work in this regard than any number of taxpayer tourism organisations can hope to. It would not only have meant new tourism infrastructure for the Coast, but a renewed appeal and additional marketing grunt on a global scale. It would certainly do better than a two week long, government endorsed underage drinking festival called ‘schoolies.’But no. It was scrapped to appease some eco-warriors concerned that it would mean the demise of an artificial wave break island in the midst of a very busy water way where everything from jet skis to sailboats, seaplanes, paragliders, fishing boats, charter boats, boozy boat tours, tourist ducks and pretty much everything else has created the maritime equivalent of Times Square. Yep, it’s just the sort of pristine environment we need to protect.
The point though is that this latest news follows a long line of projects, announced with much fanfare but which then fall victim to a slow death by regulatory intervention, environmental impact studies, planning appeals, vocal interest groups and various often spurious environmental agendas. Some fall to a quick death by political intervention, which must surely be less painful and less costly for the proponents in the long run.
You begin to wonder why anyone would want to run the gauntlet of having a major new tourism project given the green light in Australia. They risk a great deal of money in the process with no guarantee of anything ever happening. It’s their money and they can take it anywhere, and Australia has a lot of competition up against it in terms of rival destinations. The South Pacific is littered with ‘beach culture’ resorts as is much of South East Asia. The climate is just as appealing and their cost base so much lower that even many Australians prefer to holiday there than locally.
These tourism investors are offering Australian destinations the chance to reinvent their destination image and reputation, and they should be being welcomed with open arms. Without new product in the form of attractions, hotels, resorts, restaurants, shops, entertainment and tours, all that our destinations have to rely on are the existing mix of operators many of them in charge of facilities which are now more than 20 years old – roughly since the last time we saw a wave of fresh investment into tourism.
Our product range is dated and tired and our image and reputation is suffering with it. No amount of chintzy tourism campaigns will change the fact that we risk a ‘been there, done that’ reputation in global markets.
Back to our Gold Coast cruise ship proposal. Here’s a question for you. If it was Singapore, or Vietnam, or somewhere in the Phillipines or maybe Indonesia, or perhaps the Pacific Islands, do you think they would have said “no” to a brand new multi-billion dollar facility at no cost to taxpayers which would in turn help them create more jobs and training opportunities for young people, earn foreign income, do a lot of the legwork for their destination marketing and bring global attention to their destination?I doubt it.
Ross Elliott has spent close to 30 years in real estate and property roles, and was formerly a State Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the PCA, as well a national executive director of the Residential Development Council. He has authored and edited a number of research and policy papers. More at www.rosselliott.com.au