By Dianne Smith, VTIC Chief Executive
The exciting growth potential that international visitor markets present was highlighted by several speakers at the recent ATEC Symposium in Adelaide and news of the weakened Australian dollar adds renewed optimism that this potential will be met.
On the last day of the event, I joined a panel with the new Federal Minister Assisting on Tourism, Senator Don Farrell, and Johnny Edmonds, CEO of WAITOC (the Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators’ Council). We discussed the challenges regional and Indigenous tourism operators will face in capitalising on this forecast growth in international arrivals to Australia.
Clearly, there will be a great shift in the primary source markets of these visitors, with the Tourism Forecasting Committee predicting that Asian travellers will account for 46 per cent of all arrivals to Australia by 2021-22. How we respond to new markets that don’t traditionally venture beyond capital cities is a real challenge that industry must face head on.
At a time of softening automotive and resources sectors, tourism and events provide a great opportunity to diversify regional economies, providing employment and economic stimulus for communities beyond Melbourne. This is a great incentive for governments and industry to concentrate on tourism and events and ask some tough questions about why our success has been so variable in regional Victoria.
More than half of Victoria’s tourism workforce is employed in regional areas and the industry generated $8.9 billion for the state’s regional economy in 2010-11 (both directly and indirectly). Regional Victoria is more reliant on tourism than Melbourne, with the industry accounting for 11.8 per cent of total gross regional product (GRP) and 13.1 per cent of employment, compared with 2.8 per cent and 4.5 per cent respectively for Melbourne.
However, as you’ve heard many times before, Victoria’s regional tourism results are very patchy. Some regions rely more heavily on tourism than others; some are doing much better than others. In VTIC’s view, to capitalise on our tourism potential the focus should be on the following three key areas.
In planning, investing in and delivering tourism experiences, partnerships are essential to ensuring that regional Victoria benefits from the predicted increase in international visitors. Collaboration between operators, industry and all levels of government are crucial. For example, in the planning of an event, local and state governments must work closely with event organisers and other industry members to ensure the product offer is appealing to the influx of visitors.
Partnerships with universities are also worth considering. International students stay longer and travel more broadly than other international visitors and regions that tap into this (by marketing to international students and offering special packages) are on the right track. International students also, of course, attract visiting friends and relatives (VFR).
Industry must move with the times, but in a considered and well researched way. Victoria’s product offering must be refreshed in line with consumer needs and desires and it is the responsibility of each operator to ensure their experience is up to scratch. Government has a supporting role here in ensuring that appropriate research is available and that grants programs are targeted to those showing an awareness of the shifting composition of our inbound markets.
The potential of events is an area to explore further. Events add to the visitor experience and provide the push that some tourists need to go beyond capital cities. Examples include the blockbuster Grace Kelly: Style Icon exhibition in Bendigo and the Wangaratta Jazz Festival.
Another point that sometimes gets overlooked is the opportunity that Melbourne’s success presents in stimulating regional visitation. We are advocating hard for the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre extension, which will add to our offering as a business (and other) events destination and attract high-yielding business groups that stay longer. Developing capital cities to stimulate regional visitation may seem counter-intuitive but if we get international visitors here in the first place, that’s part of the battle won.
Governments play an integral role in supporting regional industry. Infrastructure such as roads and signage are essential, ensuring people can get to our attractions. Air services arrangements will become increasingly important as the mix shifts from domestic to more international visitation. The role governments play in enabling and attracting private investment is also vital. The innovative and targeted marketing that governments do overseas is crucial and must be adequately valued and resourced. Local governments also play a key role through events funding and their interactions with visitor information centres.
We look forward to the release of Victoria’s Regional Tourism Strategy 2013-2016, which we hope will outline a strong commitment to this important part of our industry.
Farewell to Don Richter and Chris Buckingham
Finally, VTIC sends a big thank you and farewell to two giants of the Victorian tourism industry, Don Richter of Tourism Victoria and Chris Buckingham of Destination Melbourne, who will be finishing up in their current roles soon. Chris and Don have made great contributions to their respective organisations and the tourism and events industry in Victoria, and we wish them both the best of luck in their future endeavours.