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Thursday, 17 May 1973
Page: 2351

Mr O'KEEFE (Paterson) - I desire to speak tonight on the subject of tourism as it affects Australia. The report of the Australian Tourist Commission for 1971-72 has just been received. It has revealed that an ever-increasing number of tourists are visiting Australia. For example, in 1970 the number of tourists was 338,395. In 1971 the number was 388,660, an increase of 14.9 per cent. However, this represented a significant decrease in the growth rate of 22.7 per cent experienced in 1970. A decline in the number of tourists must give us cause for concern. No doubt the growth of our tourist industry can be partly explained in terms of the increasingly competitive nature of international tourism, in respect of both travel costs and tourist facilities. In other words, Australia remains a relatively more expensive country to visit and its tourist facilities suffer by comparison with those of our major competitors.

Our neighbour New Zealand has also suffered a decline in visitor growth. The growth rate of 17.2 per cent in 1970 dropped to 1.7 per cent in 1971. Cheaper air fares to Europe have affected the flow of visitors from New Zealand to Australia. Of all visitors to Australia, 21.5 per cent come from the United States. New Zealand provides 25.3 per cent; the United Kingdom 11.4 per cent; continental Europe 8 per cent; Japan 4.1 per cent; Malaysia 3.3 per cent; and other nations 26.4 per cent. What must give us cause for concern is that the number of Australian tourists travelling overseas exceeds the number of tourists coming to Australia. This can largely be attributed to the cheaper air fares operating out of Australia not only on overseas airlines but also on Qantas, our own airline.

Australian tourists spent $170m more overseas than foreign tourists spent in Australia last year. In 1971 Australians spent only $60m more overseas than visitors to Australia spent here. Mr Atkinson, the General Manager of the Australian Tourist Commission, said recently that Qantas-initiated low fares to Europe and package tours were major reasons for the increase in the number of Australians holidaying abroad. Qantas last year initiated moves leading to the introduction of $420 one way and $700 return air fares to Europe. It also started a package tour scheme offering Australians 8 days in Singapore, including accommodation, for about $268.

The Australian Tourist Commission has been trying to narrow the gap and had been doing so until the lower fares were introduced by Qantas. The Commission is not critical of the lower fares. It thinks it would be bad to discourage Australians from going abroad. It welcomes the aggressive marketing mood of Qantas as a sign of an active and progressive organisation. The Commission believes that the inclusive tour charter flight scheme of Qantas to South East Asia has been responsible for few foreign tourists coming to Australia. Mr Atkinson also stated that he 'looked forward to the time Qantas operated similar schemes between Japan and North America and Australia. Then the many people wanting to tour Australia could be exploited'. The local industry and those who serve it will have to pull their socks up. They will have to improve their marketing and their standard of service and accommodation.

One has only to look at recent Press reports throughout Australia to see headings like the one in the Melbourne 'Herald' of 9th January which states: 'Our tourist resorts are poor'. This seems to be the opinion that has been circulating overseas about this country. So, as I have stated, the people involved in the local tourist industry will have to pull their socks up. If they want to attract tourists to this country they must provide up to date, modern hotel and motel facilities. Above all, they will have to get out into the market place and actively compete for custom. Nothing is more certain than that in the near future the industry will face much stiffer competition from abroad. Our problem is that the cheaper fares are being offered to countries which have a low cost structure. In Australia, by comparison, building and labour costs are high. This in turn means higher tariffs. The domestic airlines have already responded to the challenge by offering a wide range of cheap interstate package tours. However, the fact remains that holiday travel within Australia still is comparatively expensive. While it is expensive, Fiji, New Zealand and other outer Pacific and South East Asian countries will continue to have the edge on Australia's major resort areas and tourist spots. So our tourist operators will have to have a good look at the situation and make every effort to improve it to attract more visitors from overseas, and this will mean more revenue for Australia.

I have also mentioned that we must improve our hotel and motel accommodation. Tourists like comfort and modern amenities to which they are accustomed in overseas countries. Various State governments have set up tourists departments which support financially country regional tourist associations and a splendid job is being done in this field. For instance, New South Wales has established regional tourist associations throughout that State. These regional tourist associations are supported by the State Government which assists them financially to employ a regional tourist officer and to promote tourism in their areas. But I feel that we should be doing more in our federal capacity to promote and develop tourism in Australia. We have a Minister for Tourism and Recreation (Mr Stewart) in the Federal Government. He is doing a good job. He is getting about and encouraging tourist activities throughout the country. I also pay a tribute to the Australian Tourist Commission, which is doing a splendid job. I personally have had communications with the Commission with regard to tourist facilities in my own area. The Commission is sending an officer to the area to look at the facilities so that it can advertise them overseas and overseas visitors will know where there are places in this country that they can see Australian farm life and the general Australian way of life.

Most country members and, of course, city members as well have tourist attractions in their electorates. In my electorate of Paterson we have many tourist attractions. We have the great Glenbawn Dam on the Hunter River above Scone; this is a major tourist attraction. We have the Cullingral Ranch at Merriwa about which the Australian Tourist Commission wrote to me. This is a splendid tourist attraction. It has motel type accommodation and 3,000 acres under sheep and cattle where overseas visitors, particularly Americans, can be accommodated in comfort and where they can see our great agricultural industries at first hand. So I say that we should all get out and promote Australia as a tourist attraction because tourism not only advertises our great country but also brings to it valuable income that we need.

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