Divert visitors to the bush or perish, says tourism chief


Australia must draw international tourists to regional areas of the country or risk turning them away from overcrowded city hotels, an industry heavyweight says.

Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) chair John King said diverting travellers from the popular city destinations and into regional areas was key to innovating and growing Australia’s lucrative tourism industry.

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Mr King, who yesterday attended a national ATEC industry conference in Newcastle, said the industry would face significant pressures from fuel prices and economic forces in key markets such as the US in the next few years while trying to improve on a meagre two per cent growth in visitor numbers in 2007.

But another looming problem was Australia’s failure to expand its accommodation sector at the same time it was trying to lure more and more tourists Down Under with increased air services.

“While in the next couple of years I think it’s fairly likely that we’ll see an increase in air capacity with new aircraft coming on, I think we’ve got an emerging issue in Australia in our capacity internally, particularly in accommodation,” Mr King said.

“You look at places like Sydney and Perth and Brisbane and even now there’s some major capacity constraints and there are various times when it’s difficult for inbound leisure visitors.

“Inbound tourism operators are having increasing difficulty being able to put people into accommodation in cities.”

He said tourists needed to be distributed more widely and southwest WA, including the Margaret River region, and northern Australia were two areas that the industry was working on promoting.

Mr King said this needed to happen to stop city hotels from becoming full and very expensive, as well as to offer new experiences to travellers.

“I guess it’s twofold – we constantly need to expand and enhance the experiences that you can have in Australia, but also there is a physical need to be able to spread them more widely as well,” he said.