It’s time for tough questions and positive leadership
Destination Melbourne chief executive Chris Buckingham argues that James Packer’s uncomfortable home truths about Australia’s tourism industry should be listened to.
James Packer was strident in his views on the state of the Australian tourism industry over the weekend. One of the richest men in the country did not have a lot of good things to say.
He was critical of work being done by Government agencies, the fragmented nature of the industry, the decline in the quality of the visitor experience, particularly in Queensland and the way Australia is being marketed as a destination.
As a casino operator with interests in Australia and Asia, he brings a unique perspective that unfortunately will be rejected by many for being driven by self interest. This is a criticism that is frequently levelled by people who do not want to hear harsh home truths… It is also a sure fire mechanism for government to reject and deflect responsibility.
The tourism industry in Australia is in a funk – after years of successive natural disasters, epidemics and now a meteoric rise in the Australian dollar – it is time to be real. Times are tough. There has been a decline in the overall quality of the visitor experience. Sustained pressure on the bottom line has forced operators to cut corners on reinvestment in their business and for too long, the Government has responded with a ‘Centrelink’ approach.
There is an unfortunate culture of dependency on Government – a hand out mentality that is eating at the very foundations of the industry. This over reliance is now used against the industry when seeking real support from government. It curries no favour with the broader community either.
We are caught in a cycle of habitually fighting for share of the handouts rather than seeking real and substantial partnership with government.
Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the recently announced State and Federal Government budgets. Despite being the backbone of the service economy, Tourism is clearly a nice to have, but not important enough to warrant any serious attention.
How can this be? The numbers are incontrovertible – tourism generates billions of dollars in economic activity and employs hundreds of thousands of Victorians – yet where is the strategic investment by Government? To paraphrase Paul Keating they are sick of being hit around the head with limp lettuce leaves. It is time that the industry seriously review the way it relates to government… partnerships are built on respect… this appears be lacking on both sides.
Operators in Melbourne, who read Mr Packer’s observations and felt a warm inner glow because our industry is performing strongly relative to the rest of Australia, should beware. Melbourne is no longer competing solely with other Australian destinations… we are now a global destination and as such need to recognise that other major cities in our region such as Hong Kong and Singapore are now direct competition.
It is time we stopped yelling out what is wrong with the industry from the parapets and start working on our competitive advantages. The tourism industry is crying out for positive leadership. People who are prepared to ask the tough questions of government, but also accept that they are responsible for also bringing people together.
It does not matter whether you are a part time Bed and Breakfast operator, or a multibillionaire with international interests, we need positive voices who are prepared to advocate on behalf of the whole industry.
Tourism is a team game. There is only one way out of the doldrums – It is time for Business, community and government to work together in partnership and unite in a commitment to providing an outstanding visitor experience.