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It’s time for tough questions and positive leadership

Destination Melbourne chief executive Chris Buckingham argues that James Packer’s uncomfortable home truths about Australia’s tourism industry should be listened to.

James Packer was strident in his views on the state of the Australian tourism industry over the weekend. One of the richest men in the country did not have a lot of good things to say.

He was critical of work being done by Government agencies, the fragmented nature of the industry, the decline in the quality of the visitor experience, particularly in Queensland and the way Australia is being marketed as a destination.

As a casino operator with interests in Australia and Asia, he brings a unique perspective that unfortunately will be rejected by many for being driven by self interest. This is a criticism that is frequently levelled by people who do not want to hear harsh home truths… It is also a sure fire mechanism for government to reject and deflect responsibility.

The tourism industry in Australia is in a funk – after years of successive natural disasters, epidemics and now a meteoric rise in the Australian dollar – it is time to be real. Times are tough. There has been a decline in the overall quality of the visitor experience. Sustained pressure on the bottom line has forced operators to cut corners on reinvestment in their business and for too long, the Government has responded with a ‘Centrelink’ approach.

There is an unfortunate culture of dependency on Government – a hand out mentality that is eating at the very foundations of the industry. This over reliance is now used against the industry when seeking real support from government. It curries no favour with the broader community either.

We are caught in a cycle of habitually fighting for share of the handouts rather than seeking real and substantial partnership with government.

Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the recently announced State and Federal Government budgets. Despite being the backbone of the service economy, Tourism is clearly a nice to have, but not important enough to warrant any serious attention.

How can this be? The numbers are incontrovertible – tourism generates billions of dollars in economic activity and employs hundreds of thousands of Victorians – yet where is the strategic investment by Government? To paraphrase Paul Keating they are sick of being hit around the head with limp lettuce leaves. It is time that the industry seriously review the way it relates to government… partnerships are built on respect… this appears be lacking on both sides.

Operators in Melbourne, who read Mr Packer’s observations and felt a warm inner glow because our industry is performing strongly relative to the rest of Australia, should beware. Melbourne is no longer competing solely with other Australian destinations… we are now a global destination and as such need to recognise that other major cities in our region such as Hong Kong and Singapore are now direct competition.

It is time we stopped yelling out what is wrong with the industry from the parapets and start working on our competitive advantages. The tourism industry is crying out for positive leadership. People who are prepared to ask the tough questions of government, but also accept that they are responsible for also bringing people together.

It does not matter whether you are a part time Bed and Breakfast operator, or a multibillionaire with international interests, we need positive voices who are prepared to advocate on behalf of the whole industry.

Tourism is a team game. There is only one way out of the doldrums – It is time for Business, community and government to work together in partnership and unite in a commitment to providing an outstanding visitor experience.

James Packer article

Australian Chamber of Commerce Response to Federal Budget

Victoria Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry Response to State Budget

This article first appeared on

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  1. Greg Cole
    17 May 11
    8:27 am
  2. I think Chris is right on the money, err, gambling money that is. But seriously, I agree: a handout mentality, way to many industry and state tourism bodies all claiming victory for the same battles. And all in a weeing contest to see who can win the PR battle to keep members and attract new ones.

  3. scotty
    17 May 11
    8:27 am
  4. I`m not having this discussion again.

    The vast majority of Australia`s tourism offerings may not be 21st century, granted, but anyone who`s only looking at the experience it offers from a perspective of how “shiny” it is is missing the point, big time!

    I`ve tried to make this point in the past and will find other means to float it but our tourism industry is a victim of many factors but the most important one in my opinion has been the loss of national focus.

    Since our huge efforts to impress the world at Sydney in `99, tourism has lost its immediacy in the eyes of both. Governments, state and federal, and the general public, as a result: our media has bugger all interest in it and it has declined in national importance,dwarfed by the mining boom.

    In life, FOCUS is EVERYTHING: until tourism receives a revitalized dose of national attention,our industry,which STILL has so very much to offer the world,will continue to describe a descending arc.

    It`s up to those with authority and some level of high-impact clout to get behind the industry,not deride it as sub-par.

  5. Greg Cole
    17 May 11
    10:40 am
  6. If you read the article attached to this line kit might explain why it’s Chris’s job to blow sunshine in the general direction of James Packer.

  7. Andrew Smith
    18 May 11
    5:31 pm
  8. I tend to agree with Packer, even if he has a vested interest, and much of what we see is mirrored in the international education industry which is now facing it’s first serious and sustained downturn in its relatively short history.

    Some observations, limited because of no access to any official market tourism research especially consumer behaviour (how much real analysis is conducted?):

    How seriously do tourists or travellers take advertising and promotions? UK research showed a serious connection between destination choices and film imagery (e.g. Salaam Nastaase in India for Melbourne but negative events of past two years have dented that positive effect…), and as we know in education, 99% is “word of mouth”.

    What attempts are made to ask for feedback from visitors, prospective and departing (plus those who have never considered) Australia? In many major markets there is an alarming ignorance or lack of awareness of Australia….

    How effectively is the industry using digital marketing strategies local, state and national versus conventional e.g. travel to events etc. as much of education industry persists in doing? In other words trying for maximum reach, penetration and exposure all year round, everywhere through digital.

    Our digital marketing is informed a lot by ATDWs free online marketing ekit, and ironically the ekit maybe presented as a best practice tool at an international education conference in Europe later this year (yet few if any Australian education marketing people are aware of it let alone access it and practice digital marketing…..).

    How have our cultural and political prejudices affected marketing and promotional choices, e.g. TA sometimes appears to be promoting how we want to be viewed by the those we wish to impress e.g. USA, while economies in North America and Europe are declining…..

    Many years ago a private college owner remarked that the best marketing of Australia as a whole was done by “Australia’s favourite airline”, i.e. Singapore Airlines. Which leads onto the importance of international airlines i.e. they are highly motivated to market multiple Australian destinations, fill seats and lobby government, plus explain to prospectives why (from northern hemisphere) distance is not an issue….

  9. Chris Buckingham
    18 May 11
    7:53 pm
  10. Really happy that this opinion piece is generating discussion. Want emphasis that in this context am neither pro Packer or anti government. Just want people to understand that unless we work together in a unified and positive way, we will keep finding ourselves gazing at our navels… without satisfaction.

  11. Scotty
    25 May 11
    10:50 am
  12. Chris, given the findings at last week`s ATEC meeting, it has been navel gazing that has caused this gross misconception about where our industry stands and what it offers to international (and domestic) visitors.

    Results of an online survey conducted by TNS Global through the Global Gossip internet system, research provided by Dr Jeff Jarvis of Monash Uni and increased Australian product bookings and positive blogs on Hostelbookers online booking system, perceptions that our industry is failing to meet our sector’s expectations is a chicken-little reaction that does not mesh with reality.

    These various reports’ findings were then backed up by a randomly chosen panel of international backpackers (a 20-year-old Swede, a 22-year-old Canadian, a 24-year-old Japanese and a 24-year-old Pom). The general consensus was that, yes, we are an expensive destination but as long as they felt what was on offer met their expectations of VALUE, it was well worth it.

    All admitted to blogging about their experiences to up to 200 friends back in their country of origin and that they would all both recommend their friends come over for a holiday AND, best of all, would definitely look at returning again in the future.

    They were asked a variety of questions and, as Paul Hastings-Gayle had earlier reported, none of them were aware of any lack of infrastructure concerns or passe attractions before or since coming over, despite the easy availability of communicating through facebook and by mobile phone.

    However, based on reports of the power of travel agents and their propensity to book the tours that offer the best commission rate, as opposed to actual experience (ie. “value”), we can expect that our tourist infrastructure will inevitably decay and quite rapidly, as the high commission-paying product will definitely be unable to maintain their assets: Packer`s comments about boats needing a lick of paint will then be spot-on.

  13. Kevin Ross
    2 Jun 11
    4:36 pm
  14. Point taken Mr Packer. That said you obviously travelled with the wrong reef operator. I invite you and your family to experience the Great Barrier Reef with ‘Cruise Whitsundays’ as our guests.

  15. Andrew Smith
    6 Jun 11
    9:40 pm
  16. Interesting to see that an online customer satisfaction survey conducted by TNS Global, and focus group has been done.

    More interest would be to learn:

    How did they decide upon Australia? What were their information channels/sources? And more so, why is it that non prospectives do not consider Australia, what is that they don’t know about Oz or dislike (offshore research)?

    Most significant criticism that could be levelled at state tourism bodies is not Search Engine Optimising their websites for international visibility, at no cost through (like TA linking to travel, education and related websites offshore (inbound links increase Google PR thus increasing online visibility and chance of being found).

    If a prospective does manage to find website (in English generally), there are no live offshore contacts listed with whom they can communicate in their language. Many states just list their onshore tourist information offices (requires telephone midnight to 8am from Europe, or perhaps they do not want foreign tourists?), a few advertisers and state offices in Europe who cannot help with travel enquries…..

  17. Mark
    15 Jun 11
    3:31 pm
  18. As Australia’s most viewed and most subscribed travel and tourism YouTube channel, I am constantly dumbfounded by the waste and complete lack of marketing nous shown by tourism bodies. I was so dismayed with the latest visit nsw video campaign I decided to write an article about online video marketing for the tourism industry.

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