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Wednesday, 20 October 1999
Page: 10030

Senator EGGLESTON (12:59 PM) —Today I would like to talk about an issue which is of great interest to me and to Australians as a whole, that is, tourism and tourist development. The tourist industry as a whole provides a significant source of expenditure to the economy and in so doing develops a lot of add-on advantages to regions, such as job creation, regional support and small business growth. Through the regional tourism strategy, the Howard government is making a major contribution to the further development of regional tourism in Australia.

The challenge to all states in Australia is not only to meet the demand of the domestic and international markets but also to rise to the challenge of creating new ways of attracting the tourist dollar as we move into the 21st century.

As our Minister for Sport and Tourism said earlier in the year, the reality is that domestic tourism rather than international tourism remains the backbone of our tourist industry. Attracting Australians to travel around this country has to be the most productive focus of our tourist industry, because the domestic sector represents about 75 per cent of Australian tourism and is currently worth about $43 billion a year to our economy.

The industry also represents a significant source of employment, especially for younger Australians and those living in regional areas. In 1995-96 tourism was directly responsible for the employment of around 694,000 people, equivalent to 8.4 per cent of the work force, and a further 334,000 people were also indirectly employed by the tourist industry.

It is in recognition of the value, both economically and in creating jobs in the tourist industry, that the coalition government has continued to inject significant funds to encourage growth and further development of the tourist industry. This has been particularly so in regional Australia. The coalition government is developing regional initiatives to improve tourist services in terms of diversity, quality and accessibility for the Australian tourist in the regions of this country. The Regional Tourism Program and the domestic tourism campaign received funding totalling $6.1 million in the 1999-2000 budget. The Regional Tourism Program aims to improve the capability of organisations, businesses and individuals to develop and deliver quality tourism products and services in regional Australia.

Tourism facilities which will benefit from the allocation of this money include visitor information and interpretation centres, tourist attractions and regional signage, projects to raise industry standards, industry leadership initiatives, projects that can be applied across the sector or regions and the development of regional niche markets and tourist attractions. Within this program, the government has also committed funds to be used to establish web sites for regional tourism organisations. Of course, the Internet is the most significant technological advance in our world and the online tourism scoping study of 1999 reported the number of people using the Internet worldwide was somewhere around 151 million. So the use of the Internet as a tool to promote regional tourism is very relevant and important in today's world and something which our government is seeking to encourage.

The domestic tourism campaign is industry led and aims to encourage more Australians to holiday in Australia rather than going overseas. This measure delivers on the coalition's election commitment for an $8 million contribution towards a joint domestic tourism attitudinal change campaign in which it is the objective to encourage people to see Australia first.

I would like to focus on the experience of Western Australia, and more particularly regional Western Australia, in discussing the impact of the government's regional tourism program. The Regional Tourism Program is a highly competitive program and I believe that Western Australia has attracted a considerable amount of funding to regional projects from this program to support regional initiatives. The Mid-West Tourist Development Commission, for example, was awarded $100,000 to assist the Batavia Coast Interpretive Centre in Geraldton to establish a stateof-the-art interactive information centre to educate tourists on the rich cultural and maritime history of the mid-west region, including, of course, the history of the Abrolhos Islands and the Batavia wreck and the events that went with that colourful event in Western Australia's maritime history.

The Kimberley Land Council, which, of course, is the Aboriginal Land Council in the far north of the state, was awarded $70,000 to assist indigenous landowners in the Kimberley to create a new tourist enterprise. This was the Mimbi Caves tourism infrastructure, which will make a substantial contribution to developing indigenous tourism in the area around Fitzroy Crossing. The Mimbi Caves are an enormous system of caves in that area which have not been developed in the past and yet are indeed one of Australia's greatest potential tourist attractions because of their extent and beauty and, of course, because of their indigenous significance.

In the most recent budget the Regional Tourism Program was allocated $16 million over four years and the applications for grants closed this week. I am very pleased to note that a number of excellent applications were received from Western Australia. Western Australia has a very well organised tourist industry with 10 separate regional development organisations covering the entire state from the far north to the south-west. Each of these regional organisations was developed because it was realised that the pooled resources of local tourist bureaus would be much more effective in promoting tourist development in a regional area than the individual tourist bureaus.

The first such region to organise itself on a regional basis was the Kimberley, which founded the Kimberley Travel Association in the early 1990s. The KTA, as it has come to be known, has been very successful in promoting the Kimberley as the ultimate outback Australia ecotourism destination and has worked with the Northern Territory tourism authority in particular to promote Northern Australia. Regions such as Esperance, the Kimberley and the Pilbara, which are a significant distance away from the Perth metropolitan area, have the problem of accessibility as a deterrent to tourists coming to those regions—or so it would seem on the face of it. But what seems to be on the face of things is not always the reality. Basic research about the tourists who actually visit an area may sometimes produce unexpected information resulting in the complete reorganisation of the focus of regional tourism promotion.

For example, the assumption in the north of Western Australia was always that the tourists who came to the Pilbara and Kimberley were largely from the southern areas of Western Australia and, accordingly, promotional advertising was concentrated on the south west. However, in 1994 the Pilbara Devel opment Commission, researching the economic potential of the tourist industry in the area, discovered that in reality a majority of the tourists in the north of Western Australia were from the eastern states, particularly Victoria and New South Wales.

The reason for this is that most tourists were road-borne retirees and others caravanning around the country, particularly in the warmer winter months. Armed with this basic information, the major focus of the Kimberley and Pilbara Travel Association switched to providing facilities for land-borne tourists and the promotional focus became enticing more caravan tourists who went only as far as Darwin or Alice Springs to cross the border into Western Australia.

This promotion was successful and had a major flow-on effect for tourism in regions further south in Western Australia because the road-borne tourists were then encouraged to remain in the state and go down to the Gascoyne and mid-west for the wildflower season, explore the attractions of the south-west and exit Western Australia via the Eyre Highway, thus promoting tourism in the Kalgoorlie and Esperance regions.

Different markets, of course, need different modes of transport and in the Esperance region, for example, the Regional Tourist Authority has produced a regional strategy, funded by the federal government, in association with the Esperance Shire Council, which has resulted in a southern discovery path being developed to provide tourists with an enriched experience of the south-west, Esperance and goldfields area, where the tourists are able to get cheaper access to attractions in those areas.

To overcome the long distance between attractions in the Kimberley, the Kimberley Travel Association developed an air package, known as the Ibis air pass, which enabled people who purchased the pass to be flown out to major centres, out of the major centres to the more remote destinations in the Kimberley and thus have a broad experience of what the Kimberley had to offer in a short time.

Infrastructure is a very important factor in tourism development. For example, it can be argued that the tourist potential of roads should be considered when planning where roads should go. Two very good examples of such planning bearing fruit in terms of tourist development are the decisions of the Main Roads Department in Western Australia to build a road from the town of Tom Price to Newman, across the back of the Hamersley Ranges, so giving tourists access to Karijini National Park; and the decision to fund the new location of the Great Northern Highway through the Hamersley Ranges, providing a beautiful scenic drive through that rugged and incredibly impressive scenery for tourists to the area.

In conclusion, I think the Senate can acknowledge the importance of the tourist industry to Australia and acknowledge also the important contribution the coalition government is making to the development of regional tourism through its regional tourist strategy.

Australia is a brilliant tourist destination for its citizens and overseas travellers and offers a wealth of experience. The economic flow through to the Australian community by the development of the tourist industry is potentially huge, both in dollar terms and in terms of the employment potential of that industry.