Bridging the regional tourism divide

Warm beaches, crystal waters and world-class surf – Australia’s coasts have it all. It should come as no surprise, then, that our coastal regions are among the most visited in regional Australia.

The latest figures produced by Tourism Research Australia highlight this fact. Over 1.4 million international and 16.1 million domestic overnight visitors stayed in one of the big four coastal tourism regions: the North and South Coasts in New South Wales; and the Sunshine Coast and Tropical North in Queensland.

These figures indicate a huge concentration of visitors in narrow tourist strips. Counting both domestic tourists and international arrivals, approximately one in six overnight stays takes place in just four tourism regions – out of a total of 67 tourist regions across Australia.

Dealing with the divide

But while tourism is blossoming in some areas, others have yet to benefit. Approximately two-thirds of international tourists did not travel to regional Australia on their most recent trip. Of those that did, most travelled to regions that adjoin capital cities. Fewer still reach the bush and beyond.

With tourism’s pulling power concentrated in a handful of places there are only a few regional winners in Australia’s tourist boom. The big four coastal tourism locations, for example attract, more than one-quarter of regional spend.

An unevenly spread visitor dollar means that tourism businesses in Australia’s heartland struggle to succeed, so investors look elsewhere. As investment dwindles, supply fails to meet demand and tourists look elsewhere as well.

Over-concentration causes problems in hot spots too. Excessive visitor numbers can upset locals, damage fragile environments and disappoint fellow visitors. Communities in Noosa , Byron Bay and the Great Ocean Road have all experienced issues as a result of congestion and ‘overtourism’.

Regional tourism fights back

Over the past three years, however, growth in tourism regions in the bush and beyond has outpaced coastal counterparts – in terms of spend and visitor numbers.

As underlined by Figure 1, domestic tourism is the main driver. With our highly urbanised population, Australian tourists see the value in getting away from it all to explore something different in their own backyard.

visitor-expenditure

Promoting regional visits

Tourism Research Australia’s ‘Beach, Bush and Beyond' report shows plenty can be done to influence these behaviours. The objective: to shift the international visitor dial in favour of regional Australia.

For example, domestic family road trippers are most open to a trip beyond the cities. Within the international market, Gen Y and Gen Z visitors from traditional markets are more likely to disperse. Showcasing the diversity of offerings around a marquee regional attraction can then be highly effective in turning a daytrip into an overnight stay, and a weekend trip into a week-long stay.

For the less adventurous traveller, education is important. For example, telling visitors they can see rainforests within two hours of Brisbane breaks down perceived barriers of time and distance.

A dispersal strategy

Sun, surf and sand can’t sustain regional tourism alone – especially since travellers’ expectations are rising. Developing transport infrastructure, upgrading attractions, diversifying accommodation options and improving WIFI access all make regional Australia more appealing.

Persuading more people to go to our regions can support regional communities while easing the burden on tourism hot spots. What’s more, a successful dispersal strategy will enhance and diversify the traveller experience.