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30 Jun, 2003

Aussies Seek Ways to Build Shield Against Future Shocks

MELBOURNE: High-level consultations are under way throughout the Australian tourism industry to finalise a medium to long term strategy designed to help grow the industry and better position it against future shocks.

It is the first national review of Australian tourism since 1997 when a similar exercise was carried out for a plan to capitalise on the tourism growth opportunities in the post-Sydney 2000 Olympics era.

Last year, the Minister of Small Business and Tourism Mr Joe Hockey decided it was time for a fresh review and launched a new round of industry consultations. The initial round of comments have been compiled into a “Tourism Green Paper”, about 55,000 copies of which were distributed across industry sectors and regions, including 42,000 electronic downloads (from www.tourism.gov.au).

In its present form, the Green Paper is more of a wish-list expressed by the private sector on a broad range of issues ranging from aviation access to environmental sustainability, information, research, infrastructure and many more.

After the current round of consultations, a final “White Paper”will emerge with specific recommendations and strategies to make the tourism industry “more robust, flexible and attuned to sustainable profitability,”says Mr Hockey.

He added, “Tourism is a sunrise industry that is vital for small business and jobs, particularly in regional areas that needs restructuring to remain competitive and profitable. Growth in tourism is vital to Australia’s continued economic growth and export earnings.”

In a surprising and unattributed claim, Mr Hockey says, “One backpacker is worth the equivalent of 85 tonnes of coal and 22 tonnes of wheat in exports.”

Explaining his reasons for initiating the consultative process, Mr Hockey noted that domestic Australian tourism has been flat for a number of years and international arrivals continue to decline in the face of recent events.

“Domestic tourism is particularly under increasing pressure from changing demographics and competition for discretionary consumer spending from items such as household goods, entertainment and gambling.

“Therefore we need to earn more dollars from fewer international tourists – a shift of focus to yield rather than ‘profitless volume’.

“This shift from quantity to quality is important for reducing pressure on infrastructure, protecting the environment, encouraging diversification and product development and improving profitability in the industry.”

He noted that inbound tourism, too, has experienced “difficult and challenging times”of late.

“The euphoria of the ‘best Olympic Games ever’ was soon replaced by the shock of Sept 11, 2001, and the collapse of Ansett airlines a few days later. Then came the October 2002 Bali bomb blast, the devastating bush-fires of (the southern hemisphere) summer 2003 and drought, the Iraq war, SARS and a softening of the global economy.”

Two key themes of the Green Paper include sustainable growth and diversification of the Australian tourism product, and a focus on business yield and niche markets.

Some of preliminary recommendations contained in the Green Paper call for the establishment of a new umbrella body to co-ordinate domestic and international tourism, more active promotion of major events like sports competitions and upgraded quality of research.

Another proposal is the development of regional tourism and the consolidation of the more than 500 current regions to a manageable and marketable number of around 30. It also calls for an intergovernmental agreement between the Commonwealth, states and territories to forge a united approach to tourism promotion.

To improve industry profitability and sustainability, the Green Paper outlines the development and promotion of Australia as a ‘Platinum Plus’ destination, with high quality niche markets offering a unique tourism experience.

Mr Hockey said that ‘purpose travel’ in ‘platinum’ niche markets is the most lucrative and resilient travel and the Federal Government will encourage diversification of tourism product and experience through key tourism niche products such as backpacker, business, caravan, camping and motorhome, cultural and heritage, cruising and marine, food and wine, travelling seniors, indigenous, international students and study, nature-based, tourism for people with disabilities, and sports tourism.

“These new markets and products will help position Australia as an experience rather than simply another destination,”he said

While the paper suggests ways for the federal, state and regional governments to reform their support structures for the travel & tourism industry to better respond to changing needs, it also challenges the industry to do its own share and get its own house in order, too.

Originally, submissions on the Green Paper were to be received by 18 July but this has been extended to 1 August to allow for more time for consultations. The Federal Government’s Tourism Strategy Group is already consulting with the industry and plans face-to-face discussions nation-wide in July.

Said Mr Hockey, “It is critical to the development of the final tourism strategy that industry’s position on each of the directions proposed in the Green Paper is articulated clearly to Government.”

A poll posted on Mr Hockey’s own website (www.joehockey.com) shows that the Green Paper is winning a sizeable but not overwhelming approval, with 63 % in favour and 37 % against.

On the positive side, industry leaders say it is a good inventory of all the outstanding issues that need to be addressed. On the negative side, they say it still needs considerable fine-tuning in terms of specific goals and time-frame to achieve them.

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