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Tourism? But Australia’s got mining…

Scotty’s Beach House owner Boyd Scott argues Australia’s tourism industry is sinking into irrelevance while the country’s decision-makers are blinded by the mining boom.

“And don`t forget to say “G`day” to `em: you wouldn`t want to make a liar of me, now, would you?” So ended an amiable Paul Hogan Tourism Australia ad, where he told us Aussies how to treat the hordes of international tourists that he`d lured over here with his famous “Shrimp on the barbie” ad campaign.   

Following on from his runaway success with the feature film Crocodile Dundee, Hoges was seen as the perfect tourism ambassador, who could bring`em here and then educate us on how to look after them. TA was right and tourism became the country`s major new foreign export industry.

Twenty-five years later, it`s hard to believe our governments were ever very excited with an industry that employs millions, both directly and indirectly, improves international relationships, broadens the Australian peoples` horizons and brings vital foreign coin into our country (and spreads it to areas so remote that they would cease to exist without it).

How have we gone from the second largest national export earner to hardly rating a mention following such natural disasters as the Brisbane floods and Cyclone Yasi?

The answer to this mystery is that our nation has been swept up in the mining boom, a foreign exchange-earning juggernaut which has gathered pace since the awakening of China and India as industrial giants and brought huge wealth to certain states, with all governments reaping the benefits through increased excise, taxation and royalties.

This coincided with a decision to pursue a more sophisticated campaign with more culturally-orientated ads and, unfortunately, a much quieter political voice from our peak tourism marketing and promotional bodies. This decision to deviate from the core attractions of Australia, and the tone of the ads, has so far not succeeded in capturing the excitement and increased visitation of the heady days of the Hoges campaign.

With this eclipsing of all other export earners by the mining industry has come a loss of clarity in tourism policy and a definite shift of focus away from this sector. A front page report in a recent Cairns Post lamenting the closure of the Bruce Highway (linking Brisbane with Cairns) over 400 times in the last two years, through flooding, mentions the effect this has and continues to have on trucking firms and local citizens, without a single word on its dreadful impact on tourism!

The fact our currency is experiencing an unprecedented high on currency markets (bloody mining boom!) only exacerbates our woes. Until we can convince our politicians AND our peak bodies that tourism is an industry worth supporting and get them reading from the same bible, we face the prospect of drifting into an irrelevance limbo that may take years to recover from.

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  1. Andrew Smith
    22 Jun 11
    6:21 pm
  2. Tend to agree, and international education, closely related to tourism, suffers the same under the present government.

    As the owner of a medium-sized English and high school prep college in Melbourne complains, both PM and opposition leader, and their respective advisers seem to have no idea the damage that has been done to these industries.

    This is exemplified by lack of insight, planning and benefits brought to Australia, but this has been overtaken by short term changes due to opinion polls, race card politics and the perception in Australia that service industries are not real compared to mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

    One demographer preferred by Canberra, Dr Bob Birrell of Monash University, who advises and comments in the media about immigration etc. even suggested that Australia should forget about international education and tourism (i.e. less Asians) and focus upon mining and giving jobs to Australians… goes down well with those who are less tolerant… and confirms what many have always thought in Asia…

  3. Greg Cole
    23 Jun 11
    1:42 pm
  4. I wonder if we could get a comment from Joe Hockey on this? He was once a huge fan of our industry.

    BTN, perhaps pose the question to his office on the basis of his past support.

  5. Tony B
    24 Jun 11
    9:32 am
  6. The crazy part of all of this is the Government is happy to allow the tourism industry to flounder because there is a need in the mining sector for workers! They have stated this many times. So let’s all take off our thongs and put on steel caps, grab a steel safety helmet and head off to the mines… this is our patriotic duty for the good of Australia. Oh yeah and join the union.
    Bugger the East Coast sea board, the sea change thing had to come to an end anyway. Let all of those communities collapse, ’cause its our patriotic duty.
    So forget your investments in regional Australia are going down the gurgler, ’cause the wages are huge at the mines.
    Stuff the wife and kids having their jobs, schools, friends, families, and the place they know, uproot them and go to the mines.
    Really the only problem is what happens when the boom stops booming, probably won’t matter as Julia had overseen the greatest mining boom Australia has ever had, but how come in our last mining boom a few years ago tourism did not have to be foresaken?
    Here in the Whitsundays, the Bowen basin is starting to ride a formidable wave of investment in mining, yet we had our local tourism body (TW) loose 40% of its funding from our council!
    Surely some of the winnings of our region could be shared with the other 85% of the residents who directly and indirectly benefit from a healthy tourism Industry.
    Oh well s’pose I should go off and grab my pick. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go!

  7. scotty
    10 Jul 11
    10:07 pm
  8. Well, it`s the eve of a carbon-taxed Australia and now several months since I wrote this article.

    Saturday`s Age had an article on cash registers falling silent, focusing on the fabled 2 speed economy and how cost of living pressure has really started to bite in the retail sector, as well as detailing closures in food and glass manufacturing (and the very real threat to Whyalla losing its steelworks…).

    Again, absolutely ZERO mention of tourism when discussing the eastern states’ economic woes… Que?

    I mean, what part of our local tourism industry (especially the export side, bringing international spending INTO our country that might, it would be hoped, counter the Aussie tourist`s dollars flooding OUT of our nation…) deserves to escape modern journalist`s attention????

    Our`s is a fully sustainable industry that normally employs millions, stimulates the economy from coast to coast & all areas in between and tends to make the most of our unique and abundant attributes; our famed Aussie ‘friendliness’ and magnificent array of vistas, flora and fauna.

    As was noted in the Age, take away mining and we are in the same financial territory as Greece, Portugal, Spain & Ireland. Our current Federal Government has openly admitted they have backed the ‘mining boom’ to create our wealth, devil take the rest.

    The US has just recorded another rise in unemployment to 9.5% and Obama must secure another 2 trillion dollars to pay the bills up to August. The US is also the largest customer of our mineral trading partners, China and India: with the Eurozone in shock handling the PIGS economic fiasco, I can see a major consumer goods downturn heading Asias` way. The GFC that spared us before may be about to hit us head on.

    It would have been a wise move if just ONE State or Federal Government had shown some well overdue love to our industry and had bigged-it-up, so to speak.

    The silence and lack of initiative that continues to emanate from our governments ensure the lack of confidence and profitability across our sector will continue into the forseeable future.

  9. Ken Pannan
    11 Jul 11
    2:12 pm
  10. Well said Scotty. The facts are Mrs Monotone has exhausted her bundle of money left by Johnny on every ill-fated government scheme the “shoot from the hip” spin doctors could think of, so now the Carbon Tax sounds like a good idea to rip some dollars off the everyday Joe out there under the guise of reducing pollution.

    What a load of crap. Exactly how much pollution will this tax reduce. JACK SQUAT that’s how much. The notion that polluters will try alternative ways of manufacturing to reduce their footprint begs some sanity. What will happen is companies will simply sack their staff and move offshore to another country that doesn’t give a sh** about pollution and leave Mrs Monotone to wonder why her dole que is ever increasing.

    Ultimately this will make Australian products less competitive on the world stage to the point of bankruptcy for many. I’ll bet the other countries that are high polluters are having a serious laugh at the antics of Mrs Monotone and her cohorts. Cost to average Fred and Betty $9.90 per week (calculated by who??). I would stake my personals on the fact that this figure will blow out massively when everybody jacks up their end costs due to the slug they incur in delivering their goods and services.

    Compensation $10.10. WOW how generous a $0.20cent profit each and every week of our lives. Better start a new high interest bank account for the left overs on this one!! And all this will be swung into play by when? 2012-2015. Well guess what, there is an election in this time so people need to sit upright and stop swallowing the copious amounts of brown stuff coming from Canberra and think about how their lives will be made a whole lot tougher in the future. If you think it is tough now, brace yourself for the ride ahead.

  11. Dave Molloy
    14 Jul 11
    4:52 pm
  12. I have sent this thread to Joe Hockey’s office today.



  13. Tim Walsh
    30 Jul 11
    12:25 pm
  14. I operate a small backpacker hostel and apartment complex. I live in the Grampians National Park in Victoria and have been in the Backpacker Industry for nearly 18 years. I have seen many operators come and go and seen the industry expand and contract.

    In the Grampians over the last few years my business has been affected by a drought, a bushfire, a locust plague, a flood, landslips, closed tourist roads due to flood damage, bad press and that is not even considering a strong Australian dollar, a GFC and all the other issues that can affect business. The only constant that I have experienced is “change”. In life it is the only constant and the trick is to adapt to all the changes that we are experiencing.

    I enjoyed reading and agree with most of the previous comments by my fellow operators. Despite all the gloom I see some positives coming out of the mining boom. With all these workers working in the mining industry, all on high wages and all working so many weeks on and so many off then I see a large tourist market which we have never had before.

    Improved public transport will be a big bonus to our industry. I am currently working with Politicians, Tourist Organisations and the Public Transport Department in Victoria to look at the possibility of marketing a Eurail type ticket for travellers and locals on the very good public transport carrier – V Line.

    Although I concede the Tourist Industry is doing it hard at the present it is imperative that operators keep positive and embrace the changes being thrust upon us.

  15. Macca
    1 Aug 11
    5:01 pm
  16. Victoria has been behind the 8 ball with their Public Transport for many years. How do you get from Sydney to Phillip Island down the East Coast? This could have solved if Greyhound could enter Victoria’s east coast.

    Many towns around Australia are now working on luring mine workers to fill the short fall in the tourism as working two weeks on and one off. Most important is that backpackers are been called to fill the shortfall in labour as locals go to work in the mines and this is only the start of it.

  17. scotty
    1 Aug 11
    11:36 pm
  18. Tim, I wish you luck placing miners in your backpackers.

    It is common knowledge amongst most backpacker hostel owners that, as a general rule, Aussies not ‘into’ the backpacking vibe (ie. those taking a short break from work who are not immersed in the backpacking culture) shouldn`t be placed in rooms with other international travellers.

    They are in a different mindset and this leads to misunderstandings and even violence on a day to day basis. As an Aussie, I would prefer this wasn`t true but from my experience and with many hostel owners/managers backing this up, taking in non-international backpackers isn`t good policy and results more often than not in problems in-house that can affect the experience of ALL guest`s experiences.

    I always explain, we built our business to cater to the (international) backpacking market: whilst we rebuild after Yasi, I am accepting some workers doing our repairs as house guests but monitor the situation closely.

    Backpackers for Backpackers Resorts, I reckon.

  19. James Robinson-Gale
    2 Aug 11
    10:00 am
  20. Lol @ Ken’s scaremongering nonsense. You should be on talkback radio.

  21. Tim Walsh
    2 Aug 11
    2:11 pm
  22. Hi Scotty,

    Fair call. I know operators that will not take Aussies or English or Irish or whatever the case may be and for the reasons you inferred in your comment. At my hostels over the years I have had some of the small backpacker companies staying and that party culture is not ideal for Aussie visitors. My hostel now caters for a different clientele which is not in the party scene but more into convivial conversation and nature activities. I have found that certain Aussies actually respect and fit into this culture. I have had no trouble with guests since choosing to leave the party culture and just concentrate on marketing to the cultured Aussies and international travellers.

    When I referred to the mining market I was thinking more of the International workers and their wives and girlfriends than a group of Aussie blokes wanting a piss up and a fight. Funny enough my hostel is always full when I get those types of inquiries!

    I respect your experience and opinion and agree that your policy is ideal for the business model that you have created. For my model, miners and girlfriends will always be welcome.

    Keep up the good commentary Scotty.

    Regards Tim

  23. Macca
    2 Aug 11
    6:21 pm
  24. @Tim, Congratulations on opening your new hostel in France, Really looks something. You may manage to get some of those young mining workers over there with the money they’re on.

  25. scotty
    2 Aug 11
    6:29 pm
  26. Christ! We`d be down 40% if we barred the Irish and Poms! Bloody good idea around the Rugby World Cup, though… I just might add Saffers & Kiwis to that list, and ban `em all, Tim!…

    Good to hear you`ve nailed your demographic and sorry if I was teaching my grandmother to suck eggs. We do get some lovely Aussies thru, too: just hard to sort the wheat from the chaff on occasion, meaning I sometimes end up denying good folks the chance to experience our hospitality… them`s the breaks.

    @James R-G, I think you`ll find Ken has said what an overwhelming number of Aussies, across all industries, really think. Anyone who believes the spin that it is somehow optimal for Australia to introduce a new tax like this one when our non-mining communities are at crisis point has no idea how the real world works.

    As our ex PM with the scar in his back once said, “there’s going to be the usual political shit storm” and this one will most likely sweep the Greens, Independents and ALP from lower house domination.

    Can`t happen soon enough for more and more of us.

  27. Greg Cole
    2 Aug 11
    8:00 pm
  28. So you guys believe the government is spinning us a yarn? That this tax to reduce carbon emissions is nonsense and won’t work? So on the other hand without a tax…ah, what will happen, again? Oh, industry will take care of the problem by its own hand? Anyway, I digress: Can someone tell me again how our government is to blame for the demise of our tourism industry in the face of a global financial crisis?

  29. James Robinson-Gale
    3 Aug 11
    12:33 pm
  30. Of course Scotty nobody wants increases on cost of living pressures and the carbon tax may create some. Not, I reckon, to the extent that many believe or would have us believe. It’s painful but if you think carbon emmissions add to global warming (as I do) then somethings got to give. Move asap to a low emitting economy and protect the thing that keeps us employed…the natural wonders of this unique country.

  31. scotty
    3 Aug 11
    1:49 pm
  32. Hahhahaha…..oh, hang on, you`re not being sarcastic, are you? Sorry, but with that opening line about us being spun a yarn…….

    Well, to answer your last question first, read the article at the top, Greg. I’ve stated my case quite clearly.

    As for the politics and the introduction of the Carbon Tax, I’m not into bringing politics onto this forum but when policy ( or lack of it ) affects us directly I suppose it is fair game on BTN….Yes, Greg, it won’t reduce emissions, is politically naive and economically irresponsible to introduce now and is being implemented solely to keep the ALP in (minority) Government and to re-fill their coffers, which they have managed to empty during a mining boom.

    Yes, a boom during the GFC is still a boom.What do we have to show for it? Billions wasted installing/removing pink batts, more squandered due to inefficient management of the BER, the clueless set-top boxes grant and a HUGELY expensive NBN with a 10% take up (so far) which will be obsolete well before it`s even completed.They certainly aren’t bailing any threatened industries out, are they?

    None of the Federal and State Governments we’ve had over the last 15 years have directed enough love towards tourism, but the Gillard government has been worse so far due to its continuing focus on keeping the independents and Greens on-side.

    Interestingly enough, there is a civil movement building at this very moment whose objective is to force the pollies in Canberra to wake up to the damage being done in all corners of this country.

    I wish them luck.

  33. scotty
    3 Aug 11
    3:21 pm
  34. James, I LOVE the fact we are a comparatively unspoiled destination and I am all for reducing our footprint, in all industries across the board.

    However,we should not aim to be a world leader on carbon action. The nations the ALP uses as examples of early carbon action are geographically, economically and ideologically DIFFERENT to Australia: they are small, have good public transport and are not blessed with abundant mineral resources and agricultural/arable land like we are.

    Like using South Korea and Singapore as examples of countries that benefit from high-speed broadband, it`s a case of comparing apples with oranges.

    When the ALP/Greens omit to mention the fact most of the carbon taxing nations they cite enjoy some form of nuclear power (self-produced or purchased from neighbours), one begins to detect a distinctly political flavour to what should be a bi-partisan approach.

    As transport in Oz is 95% by road alone and many tour operators, bars, restaurants etc will be exposed to greater costs at a time when raising their prices is riskier by the day ( US $1.11 ….), the tourism industry is wise to oppose a tax that will definitely place it under more pressure.

  35. Tim Walsh
    3 Aug 11
    6:10 pm
  36. A green Accommodation business is a good business. The sooner our industry realises this fact the better off our industry will be. Seven years ago I registered the business name “A Green Hostel – Eco OK” and the following year built an Eco Friendly hostel. I have installed an electric heat exchange hydronic heating system, solar panels which sends electricity back into the grid as well as producing electricity for the hostel, water tanks with a 70,000 litre capacity, recycling, a building that is extremely energy efficient and now sit back and watch the small energy bills come in each quarter.
    My daily energy bill over the last year has come in at $14 which includes electricity $9 (includes heating), gas $2-50 (hot water), water $2-50. Allowing for the fact it is cold here for at least 5 months and hot for at least 4 months and I am in a mountain range which can minimise the direct sunlight you will begin to see how effective my Green Hostel is.
    I sold off my old hostel which was energy inefficient and downsized to a hostel which can accommodate a maximum of 25 guests. It was a good decision and at some point I would like to network with hostels that would be able to be marketed under the “A Green hostel – Eco Ok ” logo.
    We should forget about the politics of the carbon tax, accept that man contributes to changes in the environment as we know it and do something positive for our environment, our businesses and the generations that will be following us.

  37. Greg Cole
    3 Aug 11
    7:53 pm
  38. Yes, a little bit sarcastic, Scotty. And yes, the government is being incredibly irresponsible and have squandered billions – it shits me to tears no end. And our sovereign wealth fund – our future fund – is a non-commodity based fund in a country rich in minerals. Again, a government squandering an opportunity to shore us up for the future, but they run scared from the Minerals Council of Australia. They pander to big mining while the more sustainable tourism industry that needs a leg-up is largely ignored. I’m not blind to the benefits of mining, not at all. Just annoyed that its benefits are being lost to those who need it and that we don’t seem to be banking the benefits. We have much to learn from the Norwegians.

  39. scotty
    4 Aug 11
    11:06 am
  40. Tim, I must point out that you have every reason to be smug about your situation,having seen what was coming and made plans to work with it. Go ahead, blow your own trumpet: “Green hostel owners, rejoice!, for our hostels will be economically viable whatever the price of carbon.”

    However, “I’m alright, Jack” is not a helpful nor realistic position for our industry to take solace from. While great advice for those about to build, for those of us who have been around for longer and are not in a position to sell, rebuild,downsize, etc, we gain nothing from such a triumphal post.

    I guarantee you, those older building owners have done EVERYTHING feasible (and affordable) to reduce their power bills: insulation, low-energy light bulbs, less security lighting, solar systems (where affordable), etc. If we could all make wages and save for maintenance issues with just 25 guests in all locations around the country,your model would look even better. Once again, that is not feasible, especially in cities and neglects the fact many backpackers PREFER a larger hostel’s atmosphere (and greater opportunities for sweet hookups, too!)

    However, nothing we can do will change the fact that modern backpackers drain 600% more power than those travelling in the`80s, when power was cheap and hydro was the go: hair dryers, hair straighteners,lap tops, ipads, iphones, ipods, idocks, digital cameras….these ALL use power and have lead to us older hostel owners having to rewire and re-fit rooms with loads of power points, too…..

    Add to this the fact that modern TV’s chew more juice, as do the fans and air-con units anyone staying North of Brisbane simply MUST supply (when I moved North to Mission in `87, no-one had air-con, just fans and we were one of the first hostels to introduce it in our area in `92, only because motels deadened by the pilots strike re-opened as hostels….had to keep up with backpacker expectations…..)

    These simple facts and many other changes driven by consumer demand have all been part of the evolution of backpacking in Oz over the past 30 years.Those who are rebuilding or brave enough to enter the market by building a hostel now would be mad not to build as eco-friendly as possible, but the energy required to power the nightclubs, for instance, and young travellers personal accessories cannot and will not be supplied by solar/wind technology alone.

    That is where opposition to a pseudo “carbon reduction” tax gains it’s fuel. It won`t reduce power use, WILL be passed on to the consumers anyway and moves us further and further away from providing enough immediate, reliable power for future generations.

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