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Tuesday, 16 October 1973
Page: 2157

Mr STEWART (Lang) (Minister for Tourism and Recreation and Minister assisting the Treasurer) - by leave - In tabling the report of the Australian Tourist Commission I would like to make some observations about the role and activities of the Commission. Some quarters of the private sector view its very being, let alone its recent expansion into domestic travel, with jaundiced eyes. While they themselves are often on the brink of fractricide, many representatives of the multifaced private tourist industry have developed the amusing pastime of using the Commission as the scapegoat for all the ills of tourism. Even in official circles one can see evidence of scepticism, if not outright doubt, about the Commission's value. These sentiments must stem from the over-pragmatised view that the Commission's activities are either too abstract or too esoteric, that its direct and immediate contribution to the tourist industry cannot accurately be measured. This is almost true. The Australian Tourist Commission is not a marketing agency; its overseas offices merely promote overseas tourism, they do not sell it over the counter. And neither the Government nor the airlines wants them to do this.

However, their presence in 5 overseas countries is just as vital as the activities of our trade commissions around the globe. These experts are not selling directly, but their value is inestimable to private industry, whose efforts they are supplementing. Critics who can only think with dollar signs behind their retina must understand that national promotions - whether tourism, political ideas or frozen lamb carcasses - cost money. Quite often it is impossible to calculate the exact benefits a country derives from these promotions. The Australian Tourist Commission is such a case. The Commission's overseas offices are Australia's overseas arms in promoting a fairly difficult product - tourism. Difficult, I said, because it is fragmented, because it is underdeveloped, and because it is handicapped through our geography.

The report I have tabled, apart from its presentational excellence, reveals the professionalism and foresight with which the Commission has tackled many diverse and challenging tasks since ils establishment in 1967. Until last December, when my portfolio was created, the Australian Tourist Commission represented virtually the only source of expertise on tourism and related matters at the national level. While its basic mandate was one of international promotion, it was required to venture into a number of other areas because of the void which had existed in terms of data, product evaluation, industry education and, in many areas, leadership and coordination. It is to the Commission's great credit that despite limited financial resources it has been able to achieve significant breakthroughs in many of these areas. Throught its composition and close links with the tourist industry, it has operated with vigour and good sense to make both the public and private sectors increasingly aware of tourism and travel as a force of major national socio-economic importance. It has been aided in these efforts by a staff demonstrating a high level of professionalism in many specific areas. For example, in the research area the Commission has undertaken, initiated or co-ordinated a number of important projects which have reduced the information gap in Australian tourism and led to informed decision making in both the public and private sectors. Some of these research projects have represented major breakthroughs in tourism.

I refer, in particular, to the Commission's survey of international visitors to Australia, to the part it has played in the development of a major survey of the travel patterns of Australians themselves, to specific surveys of the tourism needs and potential of such areas as the Great Barrier Reef and central Australia and to market and economic research in relation to particular segments of the industry. In its continuing efforts aimed at improving the efficiency of the Australian travel industry, the Commission has also assisted in the development of new industry training courses at the tertiary and operational levels and, in consultation with the industry and the Department of Labour, in the completion of a survey of the manpower problems and requirements in the accommodation and catering industries. Through seminars, workshops and residential courses, Commission management has itself played a direct role in providing the kind of expert guidance and information so central to the development of the industry, infrastructure, facilities and services in order to cater for the needs of our increasingly mobile and discerning travellers. Growing affluence and leisure time, more educational possibilities and a new public preoccupation with all that is becoming known as the 'quality of life' have put greater demands on the planners and administrators in the area of tourism and recreation. We are indebted to the Commission that it has had the vision and enthusiasm to anticipate the accelerating pace of these developments by moving, with limited resources, to fill the massive gaps which have existed in these various areas.

In relation to its basic promotional mandate, The Commission's status and professionalism both at home and abroad are at an all time high. Quite properly, it devoted its earlier years to the education of the key motivators and sellers of travel in our major source markets for international visitors. That it performed this role with distinction is reflected in the number of international awards which the Commission won with its promotional aids in the publications, film and related areas. The international travel trade, now knows more about Australia and is generally better equipped to portray Australia to its clients as a result of the balanced and technically proficient nature of the Commission's promotional activities. Recently, in recognition of changing political, economic and social circumstances both in Australia and abroad, the Commission has become increasingly selective in its marketing approach.

In co-operation with State governments and industry partners, the Commission is now moving into a phase of promotional activity which will focus attention on those areas of travel activity from which we as Australians have most to gain and most to show the world, to the advantage of Australians and our international guests alike. I refer to such areas as special interest touring, the conventions and meeting business, social tourism in the area of group travel by young people and cultural, scientific and sporting exchanges. Internal reorganisation within the head office of the Commission in Melbourne as well as strategic re-deployment of key personnel in some overseas bureaus indicates that the Commission is not only keen but determined to prove its critics wrong. New, strong emphasis will be put on the Asian market while the American operations will have greater concentration through the fact that the number of offices will be reduced from three to two. These moves are all aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Commission and attracting more overseas tourists to Australia. This picture, by the way, is not nearly as gloomy as some people may think. In April, Australia had 26 per cent more overseas visitors than in the same month last year. We hope that later figures will confirm this upward trend.

As revealed in the 1973-74 Budget, the Commission will in future play a key role in the administration of the Government's policy to encourage Australians to see more of their own country. The Commission will perform this role in close consultation with the State tourist authorities and the travel industry. I have been most impressed by the manner in which the Commission, in developing its program for domestic international promotional policies has approached the task with enthusiasm, initiative and a determination to ensure that its policies are closely allied with our policy objectives in other fields such as education and regional development. A tremendous amount of work is still to be done in the exciting and challenging areas of tourism and recreation. In achieving our policy objectives - the details of which I have already tabled in a separate document - I will be looking to the Commission for its continuing support and advice. I commend the 1972-73 Annual Report of the Australian Tourist Commission to honourable members.

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