Japanese tourist operators in Australia have warned their industry is on the verge of collapse.
Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows 15,700 Japanese tourists came to Australia in June – a fall of 45 per cent compared with June last year and a 59 per cent decrease on the same month in 2002.
One tour operator, who asked not to be named, said a large Asian travel firm had released most of its Sydney fleet drivers, rehiring them at cheaper rates.
Many of his colleagues were struggling to survive, often working for less than the minimum wage, being forced to accept $30 per airport pick-up, which normally involved three hours’ work.
He blamed much of the downfall on Tourism Australia, which he said used a one-dimensional marketing strategy that has been losing steam since the mid-1990s.
Experts agree. University of NSW academic Roger March said research showed the No.1 reason Japanese came to Australia was to cuddle a koala, but this research refers to only a narrow demographic.
Dr March said tourists were now more likely to be younger, to travel overseas more than once a year, to spend less each trip and these tourists – who are not being addressed in the marketing campaigns – were looking for “soft adventure” trips.
“There has to be a much more focused approach specific to the interests of Japanese tourists,” he said. “The days are long gone when you would see groups of Japanese tourists trailing a tour guide around the CBD … they’re very much looking to get their hands dirty.”
A Tourism Australia spokeswoman said a report released last week linked the long-term decline of tourists to the slowing Japanese economy and reduced airline capacity. She said figures in June were also depressed because of panic over swine flu.
”Hawaii was down by 32 per cent, New Zealand by 67 per cent and Singapore by 31 per cent, so the Japanese weren’t going anywhere in June,” she said.