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TOURISM officials are wondering what has happened to Australia that has caused a slump in overseas and domestic tourists.
Easy. We're boring, expensive, distant and difficult.
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The number of Australians heading overseas for holidays has almost doubled in the past decade.
For some reason, the tourism industry feels this is an abandonment but it really comes down to the fact that . . . well, why would anyone holiday here?
One-time ambassador for Australian tourism Paul Hogan summed it up by saying that despite how we thought about ourselves, the rest of the world didn't really believe we were that special.
We had become so five-minutes-ago.
"Everyone has nice beaches and waterfalls and museums and things like that," Hogan said.
The lovable larrikin commented that when Americans thought of Australia, it was now in terms of our actors rather than our beaches. I doubt that, considering most of them adopt an American accent in the movies, but it's a reasonable point.
Now they want to throw away $20 million of taxpayers' money coming up with a slogan to lure tourists to Australia when what they really need is a reason to come here.
We haven't helped matters by giving China a black eye and then developing a perception in India that we were a bunch of racist rednecks by beating up some Indian students in Melbourne.
Chinese tourist visa applications to Australia have in the past three months plummeted as much as 80 per cent because of political tensions.
Adding further insult is that the two most recent tourism campaigns - using Lara Bingle and then the ill-fated and hideously expensive spin-off from the Australia movie - have not reaped the expected rewards.
When Bingle asked, "where the bloody hell are you?" Britain and Europe replied: "In nice and interesting places like Spain, Italy and France, thanks for asking." Tourism experts said the Lara Bingle-in-a-bikini commercial put women off, and they were predominantly the ones who made the family travel decisions.
When the Australia movie spin-off tried to lure them, those who had seen the film were paralysed by boredom. Those who hadn't seen the movie thought the ad was a Lux commercial.
Australia managed to poke its head above the pack for a while because we were safe, English-speaking, warm and cheap.
But cheap doesn't work when the local currency is above US80 and, let's face it, nowhere is safe any more. Just ask those Indian students or read about the terrorism plans that were being plotted for our army barracks.
Image by In Veritas Lux via Flickr
That leaves warm and English-speaking to counteract the boring, expensive, distant and difficult.
After the novelty value of kangaroos and koalas wore off, Europeans saw us for what we were: England with better weather and less whingeing.
My family recently booked a two-week holiday to Bali but I asked myself: "Why not somewhere in Australia?"
Why am I not supporting our local tourism industry by holidaying locally?
Why not holiday on the Great Barrier Reef, for example? Well, have you seen the prices? We've been there and seen the bleached coral. The reefs on the Sinai Peninsula and Fiji were superior, more fun, less crowded and had a big point of difference: there was a sense of discovery.
Sydney? Spent 12 years there. It's just a bigger Gold Coast.
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Melbourne? Hate shopping and art galleries and I look washed out in black.
Perth? Are you kidding?
Regional Australia? See Adelaide.
Kakadu? My annual income remains below seven figures.
Uluru (Ayers Rock)? Let's see. Fly to Alice Springs, drive for a day to marvel at a rock. Fly home again. Hold me back!
Tasmania? Love to, but have to keep something to do in retirement or possible brain-injury rehabilitation.
Face it, if we don't want to holiday here, why would anyone else?
If you consider that the buying power of the Australian dollar has escalated so much in the past year and that airfares, particularly to the US, have plummeted, why wouldn't you take the opportunity to holiday overseas?
Image by Medusa's Lover via Flickr
Hogan suggested that we should use Hugh Jackman to sell Australia in much the same way as Hogan did with his "throw another shrimp on the barbie" campaign 30 years ago. It's a good idea except Hogan's acting roles were as a laidback, laconic Aussie.
Jackman, who is apparently a top bloke, recently used knives springing from his fist to dismember half the cast in the latest X-men film. Maybe not the image we're looking for.
Hogan said his campaign worked because he invited people to have a good time, to meet some Aussies and feel welcome, but that was a product of its time.
"It'd be a terrible dried-out, burnt-out shrimp on the barbie if we were still waving it about after 30 years."
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