South West alone in seeing a tourism bump amid push to get Australians to holiday in their own backyards
By Aja Styles
Intrastate travel is not propping up the state’s tourism economy as much as hoped, with Tourism Council WA lamenting a 26 per cent loss across the school holidays compared to last year.
Despite Premier Mark McGowan and Tourism Minister Paul Papalia extolling the dramatic takeup of cheap flights to the Kimberley and a surge in people travelling in their own backyards, the shortfall is still being keenly felt.
Business activity in the state’s North West was down 73 per cent in June and July, and Perth also saw a decline of 62 per cent, due to a lack of interstate and international travellers.
Only the South West had improved figures with a 6 per cent boost on last year, which showed West Australians favoured "self-drive destinations and low-cost, self-contained accommodation options", according to the council’s chief executive Evan Hall.
“While there has clearly been some pent-up demand for intrastate travel, those visitors are not travelling and spending in the same way as out-of-state visitors,” he said.
“We encourage Western Australians to consider travelling to parts of WA they’ve never visited before and to book local tours and experiences, as well as accommodation.”
But Mr McGowan called on the council to perk up.
“We are going through a pandemic, we can’t have people from the east come in, we can’t have international tourists come in, we’re investing massively in intrastate advertising campaigns and all the feedback we’re getting is that there’s been huge takeup around Western Australia,” he said.
“I just urge that body just to be a bit more positive.”
But the question of being able to take people from the east coast or overseas is still being debated before the High Court and by all tiers of government, with the federal Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham last week calling out WA’s hard border stance in a tourism, aviation and transport summit webinar.
“WA has maintained this blanket approach to the entire country including jurisdictions that have shown no community transmission and barely any cases of COVID in recent times. I think that lack of proportionality that particularly concerns me,” he said.
While the Commonwealth over the weekend withdrew its support for mining magnate Clive Palmer’s legal fight, the government questioned Mr McGowan’s strategy for managing risk and how to open up the nation to domestic travel.
“There is a willingness by Australians certainly to get out there in terms of drive tourism, and to get out there and experience parts of Australia,” Mr Birmingham said on Thursday.
He said the battle was to translate that to a willingness to travel across the country, book tours and experiences, and redirect some of the $65 billion spent travelling overseas last year to tourism in Australia.
Flight Centre has called it a tall order.
“We don't really play in the inbound space, but the loss of overseas visitors alone means Australia loses about 750,000-1 million visitors every month,” spokesman Haydn Long said.
“Even when domestic borders fully reopen, it will be virtually impossible for local travel to make up that shortfall.”
WA travel agents are being crippled by the border closures, with most reporting operating on about 5 per cent income and outgoings that cannot be met by the JobKeeper program alone.
Mr Hall also held concerns for WA tourism businesses staying afloat through JobKeeper.
“Close to half of businesses reported they would need to reduce staffing levels or close their business once JobKeeper ends if interstate and international travel remains restricted,” he said.
Mr Papalia last week said he reached out to Mr Birmingham to “consider creating a working group including industry representatives from the travel agent sector to look at the challenges they confront and propose a way forward”, but Mr Birmingham’s office has denied that has been the case as yet.
In the meantime, Mr Birmingham said he would look at what could be done, “consistent with our principles of support being targeted and proportionate and time limited”, and some may have to be long-lasting structural changes.
“We'll be having a look, whether it's in this year's budget or in the lead up to the end of the JobKeeper program about the status of the sector and the economy overall and what's necessary at those junctures,” he said.
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