Holiday Job

Tourism & Transport Forum

It’s simple, really: top priority, for the forthcoming election but also for the foreseeable future, is to increase recognition of the tourism industry in Australia and promote a better understanding of its place in society and the economy. In short, Australia doesn’t believe in itself enough as a tourist destination and doesn’t value the contribution of its tourism industry highly enough.

Ken is Chief Executive of the Tourism & Transport Forum, the national advocate for the tourism, transport and aviation sectors, whose members comprise around 200 of the top names in the industries. He is responsible for the development and implementation of TTF’s policy, advocacy, research and member services agenda. He joined TTF in May after 16 years with the Property Council of Australia in a variety of executive roles. TTF’s announcement said: “Ken has a passion for the future of our cities and has broad public policy, advocacy, business and management experience.”

When we spoke, he was in the midst of preparing an advocacy statement ahead of the federal election, so he did not want to pre-empt its impact. However, he was obviously well briefed and had hit the ground running, so to speak, his views and knowledge of the travel and tourism sectors already extensive. Ken wanted to make one fundamental fact clear: TTF’s figures show that – despite the well publicised ‘strong dollar’ and all the other woes that seem to be afflicting the country, Australia’s tourism industry is growing.

Despite the soft economic conditions, this year visitor expenditure in Australia is expected to total $99.1 billion, attributable to 6.3 million international arrivals, 75.5 million domestic overnight trips and 176.9 million domestic day trips. Outbound departures will reach 8.4 million trips. In the five years to 2016-17, the forecasts expect international arrivals to reach 7.3 million, up 4.0 per cent per year; outbound departures to reach 9.6 million, up 3.6 per cent per year; domestic overnight trips to reach 79.2 million, up 1.5 per cent per year; domestic day trips to reach 180.9 million, up 1.4 per cent; and total visitor expenditure to reach $107.5 billion (up by 2.3 per cent per year in real terms). Not sensational leaps, perhaps, but solid growth nevertheless,

According to a report published by TTF in May (Tourism Forecast Highlights), “following solid gains in the current financial year, the growth in inbound leisure travel is expected to moderate in 2013-14, with holiday travel up 4.5 per cent and VFR (visiting friends and relatives) travel up 3.9 per cent to reach 2.9 million and 1.6 million trips, respectively. In contrast, the growth in inbound business travel will accelerate in 2013-14, up 3.9 per cent to 936,000 trips.”

The need for more and better conference and convention facilities (in Perth and Adelaide, for example, already underway or nearly complete – in Sydney, about to start in the form of the new Darling Harbour project) is underlined. It is another part of TTF’s job to lobby for such facilities, and Ken cites examples of infrastructure such as Melbourne Airport’s third runway and the need for good rail access to and from Tullamarine (now in the official plan, but he stresses the need to maintain pressure to ensure the completion of the project), as well as Sydney and Perth airports.

“While the importance of tourism may seem obvious to those who live and work near some of Australia’s tourism icons such as the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and the Sydney Opera House, the reality is that tourism is a key sector for a great number of cities and towns across the country given the breadth and depth of our tourism offering,” says the TTF, part of whose brief is to highlight tourism’s overall contribution to business activity and employment in each federal electorate “to ensure that the significance of the visitor economy is better understood by decision makers and the entire community.”

This being the Asian Century, it is appropriate that a large part of the growth in both inbound and outbound tourism should feature Asia. What we used to call the Far East is fascinated by Australia, which for billions of Chinese, Indonesians or Malaysians is an ideal Western travel package, closer and more convenient than Europe. “Asian markets will become increasingly important in the coming years, rising from 42 per cent of total arrivals in 2011-12 to 46 per cent a decade later. By 2021-22, New Zealand will see its market share fall from 20 per cent to 17 per cent, while China gains an equivalent share, up from 10 to 13 per cent. In 2021-22, visitor expenditure is expected to total $7.6 billion from China, followed by $3.4 billion from the UK and $2.7 billion from NZ. India and Indonesia will account for $2.0 billion each, Japan and South Korea $1.6 billion each, Singapore and Malaysia $1.5 billion each, Germany $1.2 billion and Hong Kong $1.0 billion.”

Outbound, in the coming years, “the share of trips to New Zealand and Indonesia is forecast to decline in favour of other Asia-Pacific destinations including China, India, Vietnam and the Philippines. By 2021-22, China will have overtaken the UK as Australia’s fifth most popular destination (631,000 and 590,000 trips, respectively), while Singapore will have overtaken Fiji (420,000 and 402,000 trips, respectively) in seventh place. Trips will total 1.3 million to NZ, 1.1 million each to Indonesia and the US, 780,000 to Thailand, 346,000 to Malaysia and 282,000 to Hong Kong.

Not that the industry is without its challenges. Environmental issues and the big question of sustainability in tourism have loomed large in recent years and Australia faces a constant battle to balance conservation obligations against the need for access. But Ken believes the industry is up to these challenges in the same way as other sectors.

He believes the various tourism authorities and offices have been doing a good job in recent years of rationalising and sharpening the message to potential visitors around the world. New Zealand is often cited as a paradigm for clarity in its inbound “100 per cent” campaign but Ken points out that New Zealand has also clearly prioritised tourism as an economic driver, with Prime Minster John Key holding the tourism portfolio, ensuring a whole-of-government approach to growing the sector. In Australia, the portfolio is currently grouped with Resources and Energy – a fact Ken believes means tourism does not get the ministerial priority it deserves.

Ken also believes the whole of Australia needs to make itself more welcoming to the fast-growing numbers of incoming tourists from Asia, especially the Chinese who – travelling in such large numbers and spending larger amounts than many Australians realise – should be able to expect more Chinese-language signage and spoken ability.

As of 2011 (the latest figures available), there were about 283,000 tourism businesses in Australia with an approximately equal share within tourism characteristic industries and tourism connected industries. Combined, these represented more than 13 per cent of all businesses in Australia. That added up to a total of some 514,000 direct and 393,000 indirect jobs. The industry generated tax revenue of $4.2 billion ($1.1 billion of which was indirect) on a total of $95.7 billion generated, with a contribution of $34.6 billion (direct) and $38.7 billion (indirect) to GDP.

Going forward, it will be Ken’s job to make everyone – government and the general public – more aware of these impressive statistics and the true value tourism brings to the nation’s economy.

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December 13, 2018, 4:12 PM AEDT