The Importance of the Australian Tourism Industry

  • August 24, 2020

I want to start by congratulating and thanking the member for Perth for putting this motion on the Notice Paper and for moving it today. It is an important motion about a sector of our economy that is vital to the livelihoods of so many hundreds of thousands of Australians and the businesses that they work for. I am delighted to support this motion because the tourism industry is very close to my heart. In fact, before I was elected to this place I spent five years working in the tourism industry, at the Tourism & Transport Forum as its deputy CEO.

I am extraordinarily aware of the contribution that the tourism sector—what we like to call, and it is a better descriptor, the visitor economy—makes to Australia’s economic success. Tourism, in all its forms, represents the most incredibly diverse array of businesses and activities in our nation. Of course there are the high-profile businesses like our big airlines or big hotel chains or big travel agency companies. Often they are the most glamorous ones, but the reality is that 95 per cent of tourism is actually a small business operation. It’s the mums and dads running a country motel or a caravan park. It’s the young person who’s working as a tour guide in a capital city. It is the Indigenous community that is providing what is such a uniquely Australian experience. It is all of these small bits of the jigsaw puzzle that go together to create that great and impressive picture, which is the Australian tourism experience.

Across our country, be it our biggest of cities or our smallest of towns, there is one thing that you can certainly find, and that is some form of tourism operation. I particularly want to recognise, as we’ve heard today, how important the tourism industry is for regional Australia. I also want to recognise the fact that tourism is vital to the prospects of young Australians, because not only are there so many people whose first casual job is in the tourism sector but also there are those who start there and who go on to have a whole career in tourism, a career that is just so important.

Finally, when I talk about the tourism sector I also want to recognise that tourism isn’t just about Australia’s economic prosperity. I passionately believe that every international tourist who visits our shores becomes one of our most effective ambassadors when they leave. We know from all of the great research that Tourism Australia does that so many people come to this country with high expectations and leave with those expectations not only met but also fulfilled in ways that they never expected. For example, if you ask virtually any prospective tourist in one of our source country markets, ‘What is a reason for visiting Australia?’ very few will nominate Australia’s food experience, but if you ask a tourist when they’re leaving Australia, ‘What was the best part of your visit?’ many will say that it was the food and wine experience they enjoyed while they were here.

Tourism is vital to this country, and, therefore, it has been so distressing to see the devastation that the coronavirus pandemic has caused for the sector. There are very few industries that have been hit as hard as tourism has been. That is self-evidently obvious when you’re talking about an industry that relies on cross-border travel, be it intrastate or overseas. Like those who have spoken before me, many of us have experienced that in our own electorates. Just last week, through the Australian Federation of Travel Agents, I met with local travel agents. They have been devastated because travel agents rely on two things for their bread and butter: overseas travel and business travel. Sadly, domestic travel very rarely generates a huge amount of work for the travel agent business because most people feel as though they can do that for themselves, so supporting the tourism industry as we move forward is going to be vital.

The support that we’ve been able to wrap around those affected by coronavirus, like JobKeeper, has been a lifesaver. I’ve seen comments in the last couple of weeks from tourism industry leaders such as Margy Osmond at TTF or Peter Shelley at ATEC, and recently from Victorian tourism leaders, strongly supporting the government’s decision to extend JobKeeper. There have been other measures we’ve taken: support for regional galleries, support for zoos, and support for so many other sectors of the economy that have a flow-on benefit for tourism. But what I do know is that when we get through this, when the borders do start to reopen, we’re going to have to be there, backing the tourism industry with all of our might. We’re going to need Tourism Australia to be focused on reopening those markets, establishing Australia as the fabulous place to come to that we know it is, because that will be so vital to our future prospects.