Shining a light on the Black Spots of regional tourism

 Tourism black spots in regional Australia

 The tourism industry spends a lot of time talking things up, but the sad fact is that tourism numbers are falling in much of regional Australia.

As the table shows, there have been some big falls in overnight visitor trips to some regions. I’m advised that the 33% drop in the Upper Yarra region is mainly due to the loss of tourism infrastructure following the Black Saturday fires of 2009. And the Whitsundays have suffered from Cyclone Yasi damage. But the big mysteries are the 11% falls in the Blue Mountains and Central Coast of NSW. Whatever the causes, these are broad-based, resilient economies that can weather those downturns –but why the downturn in tourism numbers?

Overnight visitor trips – negative growth regions (‘000) 

 1999                2016            Decline (%)

Upper Yarra Vic                                                 284                  214               33

Wimmera Vic                                                       145                    24               17

Outback NSW                                                      564                  473               16

Blue Mountains NSW                                    1,072                  968               11

Central Coast  NSW                                        1,440               1,302               11

Murray NSW                                                       1,155               1,054               10

Central Highlands Vic                                       446                  406               10

Western Grampians Vic                                    365                  335                 9

Whitsundays Qld                                                  495                  455                 9

Wilderness West Tas                                           154                 149                  4

Fleurieu Peninsular SA                                      757                  743                 2

Mallee Vic                                                                741                  727                 2

Source: Austrade National Visitor Survey Results (December 2016)

But it’s the decline in tourism activity in the more distant regions like the Wimmera, Mallee, Murray and Outback NSW that is the big cause for concern. They’ve suffered droughts, water buy-back schemes and significant population losses over the last generation or two, and tourism has been touted as their saviour. Indeed there has been an army of tourism officers and local champions devoted to the cause.

The possible reasons for these declines are:

  • High domestic airfares e.g. Sydney to Broken Hill airfare is $1366 return, which is more than to/from Europe.
  • Motoring costs e.g. the cost of petrol outside the capitals.
  • The lack of tourism product and/or the lack of appreciation of that product.
  • People being time poor i.e. apart from Grey Nomads and backpackers, few are willing to spend hours driving.
  • The flat population growth of many regional centres, thus limiting the growth of regional aviation traffic and the lowering of airfares.

I tried to run these possibilities past the tourism policy expert in the federal government, but couldn’t find any such person. The tourism function is now buried in Austrade, of all places, as a result of the Abbott Government cutbacks, and in any case Austrade’s mandate doesn’t extend to regional or domestic tourism. This basically leaves the Tourism & Transport Forum (TTIF), state tourism agencies, individual local councils and most importantly, travel writers like you to progress initiatives in this field.


  1. Tourists’ familiarity with rural and remote towns is usually very basic. Wiki entries on particular towns are pretty uninspiring, and glossy brochures tend to be too general. We need to interest local councils to engage expert travel writers to reveal brilliant reasons why tourists should visit rural towns, and to upload the articles onto the websites that tourists mostly use. As one travel writer commented “we need to target the growing numbers of Australians who are too lazy, obese, couch-bound and risk-averse to even think of venturing out of wi-fi range.”
  2. The big problem facing regional Australia is the lack of critical mass and consequently high transport and travel costs. Could regional stakeholders mount a big lobbying effort to convince the feds and state governments about relocation incentives to get balanced development? This critical mass thing will take decades to achieve – so let’s start now!
  3. International tourists are having longer holidays Downunder – the 6-7 day rush around a few hotspots is becoming less common. So let’s galvanise inbound tourism operators to offer three day bus trips from Alice Springs down through Coober Pedy, the Flinders Ranges and the Barossa. They’d see the real Outback, drink in a real pub, eat kangaroo steaks, fossick for opals and appreciate the haunting landscapes and sunsets. Similarly, Qantas could drop tourists into its birthplace of Longreach (Stockman’s Hall of Fame) and arrange tour buses down through Blackall, Charleville, Roma, Toowoomba etc. Hotel/motel owners would need to get their food and accommodation up-to-scratch. You travel writers have a better feel than anyone about this – so GET INVOLVED! It won’t happen of its own accord.

If you are thinking along the same lines, please contact me.

Rod Brown

Cockatoo Network




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