01 Feb 2020

Tourism or Visitor Economy... That is the Question

As the Australian Government pens the next long-term tourism strategy for the nation to 2030, there will be a subtle debate over its title and even reference to the industry itself.

According to the Tourism Satellite Accounts for 2018-19, tourism is Australia’s largest service export and now ranks 4th overall behind the resource dominant sectors of iron ore, coal and natural gas, at $39.1 billion. This represents an 8.2% share of all goods and services exports. Further, the industry employs 666,000 people, representing 5.2% of the entire Australian workforce. 

Yet, we are still not regarded as a serious industry by governments, and in some cases, the public. The next long-term strategy for the industry is a once in a decade opportunity to influence and correct this. A shift in language and terminology could help. 

So, what is the ‘visitor economy’ and how does it differ from the term ‘tourism’? 

The visitor economy is a concept that takes into account economic activity much broader than that traditionally described as ‘tourism and events’. The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) defines it as any direct, indirect, and induced economic activity resulting from visitors’ interactions with a destination outside their usual environment. More so, it is a phrase used to describe the economic benefit of visitor activity not only for the industry directly related to tourism, but in a very real wider sense. 

Another perspective identifies the difference as: the person-centred concept of a ‘tourist’, defined to measure the economic activity of that person, versus the place-centred concept of the ‘visitor economy’ concerned with the whole environment within which tourists and other visitors act. 

From a business events perspective, we attract delegates (not tourists) that convene for a common interest. This face-to-face interaction is a platform where deals are struck, relationships are formed, and ideas are generated. As put by the Meetings Mean Business coalition, “Great things happen when people come together.” 

We have long understood the beyond tourism benefits of business events, driving opportunities across the economy. Delegate spend during the business event and additional touring pre and post is only the tip of the iceberg. Business events enable personal connections, positive business outcomes and strong communities. For example, they:

>       Educate through knowledge transfer
>       Stimulate trade and investmen
>       Nurture research collaboration leading to innovation and productivity gains
>       Promote cultural exchange and attract global talent
>       Deliver legacies and other community benefits. 

Visitors engage in a wide range of activities, some of which can be economic, while others include various interactions with communities and environments. Namely small, medium or large businesses as well as public amenities such as roads, parks, beaches and reserves. 

Better understanding our visitors and their purpose of travel – be it for conventions and exhibitions, a holiday, leisure, events, business, retail, education, or to visit friends and relatives – also expands our strategic attention beyond marketing to include connectivity, infrastructure, experience design, workforce and skills, industry development and destination management. Supply and demand. 

One by one, the States have led this movement over the past decade and now have a greater appreciation of the far-reaching benefits of the industry, recognised through investment and policy considerations. Nationally, we should follow this lead. 

Those opposing the shift in language are fearful that:

>       The new terminology will be too complex to understand, especially by the public.
>       Undue pressure will be placed on the renaming of ministerial titles and government agencies.
>       The outbound sector such as travel agents would not be represented. 

However, if we are seeking a national whole-of-government approach and buy-in, we must develop a whole-of-industry strategy. The visitor economy, while requiring its own senior minister, touches many portfolios and requires the attention of multiple departments in order to grow to 2030.




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