For decades regional communities have seen how international visitors, particularly northern Europeans, love our National Parks. We probably need to face up to what some are saying about the effect our government’s social policies are having on potential international visitors.
Tony Wheeler, co-founder of the Lonely Planet travel books reports that sales of his Australia book, once a best seller, are down and that recently, when trekking in Nepal, a woman in a group of young British tourists said what a racist country Australia was and they all agreed! David Fickling wrote in the UK’s The Guardian last year that Australia, once the lucky country, is now better recognised as the unfriendly island always offering the could shoulder to outsiders.
Concerns about logging in Tasmania have been raised by the Tourism & Travel Forum. CEO Chris Brown says they have written to John Howard saying these things resonate around the world, particularly in the German and North American markets, where they care about the environment they holiday in.
Recently released figures showed a decline in overseas visitors in May (Australian Bureau of Statistics) and Wheeler considers Australia’s immigration policy was a factor. Apparently the Federal Government raised this concern last year when an internal report said tourists were visiting New Zealand, a seemingly more benevolent destination, rather than Australia.
Wheeler says that unlike terrorist violence and the spread of disease, Australia’s perception abroad is something we may be able to control. True, but some say Wheeler’s Lonely Planet books, with their warts and all approach, reinforce negative perceptions.
Ken Boundy of Australia’s peak tourist body, Tourism Australia, says people have not turned off coming to Australia. We have more than our fair share in global growth due to consistent marketing of this country and a pent-up global demand for tourism and if the bureau’s statistics on visitor numbers are seasonally adjusted, things do not look as grim. Its figures show that 2.1 million people have visited Australia so far this year, up 14 per cent from the same time last year. Finally, Chris Brown is not convinced that these negative perceptions have actually had a financial impact on the industry – even among politically aware backpackers.
So what do YOU hear at the all important coalface ?