Tourism can be the new gold mine in WA

Relaxing at El Questro. Picture: Tourism WA

Each week we see new reports of resources companies shedding hundreds of jobs in WA and across Australia.

At the same time, export services such as tourism and education have re-emerged as Australia’s biggest income earner, outstripping shipments of iron ore.

As the resource sector slows and the Aussie dollars falls, competition has broken out between the States to secure the tourist dollar and create much-needed jobs.

It is time to strengthen our tourism sector so we can reach the State Government’s target of $12 billion in annual tourism expenditure by 2020, which would create 22,000 jobs over the next five years.

Tourism is a valuable industry for the State’s economy — last year visitors spent more than $8 billion here, creating more than 90,000 jobs — but WA is at risk of being left behind in the race to attract more visitors to our State.

West Australians continue to explore their home State in large numbers, with a 23 per cent increase in Sandgropers travelling within WA last year. However, interstate tourism has slumped since 2008. Australians used to turn up to WA in droves, but we developed a reputation for being expensive and didn’t invest enough in promoting our extraordinary regional destinations.

Over the past year, Perth hotel rates have come down significantly to normal pre-resource boom levels.

Petrol, hospitality and other travel expenses have all become more affordable. Most importantly, the fall in the Australian dollar has given everyone a 20 per cent discount to travel in WA. WA is an affordable destination once more — but we must make the transition from resources sector decline to tourism export growth.

Our competitors are already focusing on the new tourism economic opportunity. In the recent Queensland election campaign the new Labor Government committed $40 million over four years to attract tourists from key markets including China.

The Sunshine State is not alone — ahead of the NSW election this weekend, the NSW Liberal Government has committed an additional $123.5 million over four years for tourism and major events, including an extra $9.5 million to attract overseas visitors, $40.6 million to grow regional tourism and more than $70 million to boost Sydney as a major events destination.

In comparison, at the last WA State election the Liberal Party promised $24 million, of which $13 million has been delivered.

These other States see the benefit in investing in tourism promotion to attract tourists at a time when the low Australian dollar makes the country attractive to international visitors and means Australians are more likely to travel within their own backyard.

In WA, good government and private investment means we are developing new tourism assets that are making our Perth gateway more attractive to visitors. The Perth Arena, new Perth stadium, new WA Museum, Elizabeth Quay, City Link, Scarborough beach and Perth Airport upgrades will complement the significant expansion in hotel rooms already under way in the city.

But there is no point in investing in these tourism assets if we don’t tell the tourists about it. The decline in the number of interstate visitors reflects the need for the State Government to deliver the remaining $11 million election commitment to promote Perth and regional WA as an extraordinary and affordable tourism industry.

Promoting WA to interstate visitors is a prime responsibility of the State Government and the continuing decline in interstate visitors is the inevitable result of insufficient investment in marketing. The industry is relying on the election commitment to compete with destinations such as NSW and Queensland, which are investing heavily in marketing and events.

Investing in tourism delivers results — for every dollar the State Government invests in promoting WA, the economy earns an extra $20 in new tourism dollars. It’s a good deal for the State. If we don’t market WA as an extraordinary destination which delivers on value for money, we will continue to see a decline in people coming to the State in favour of the many other attractive destinations around the country.

As the construction phase of the mining boom winds down and job creation in that sector drops off, tourism is squarely positioned to become one of the major industries of Australia’s future growth.

Now is the opportune time for the State Government to promote WA as an extraordinary place to visit.

Evan Hall is chief executive of Tourism Council WA

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