Tourism is a major economic driver in Northern Australia. The industry attracts millions of domestic and international visitors, who spend billions of dollars in Northern Australia. This visitation and expenditure in turn generates employment, stimulates investment, and supports local businesses. The tourism industry can also enable regions that rely heavily on the resources and/or agricultural industries to diversify their economies.
Given the importance of the tourism industry to the economy in the north, governments at the federal, state and local levels have and are providing funding and implementing policy initiatives to support the tourism sector.
Federal tourism initiatives include: international marketing, infrastructure spending, business development assistance and advice, investment attraction and grant funding.
States and territories are responsible for the domestic marketing of tourism, and have a range of policies and strategies regarding the development of tourism in their jurisdiction. Regional and local tourism organisations and local governments also contribute to tourism marketing and product development across Northern Australia.
Domestic and International Tourism
The Office of Northern Australia advised that in 2013-2014, approximately 9.3 per cent of Australia’s international overnight stays and 12.7 per cent of domestic overnight stays were in Northern Australia. North Queensland (Qld) is the most popular region in Northern Australia, hosting over six million domestic and approximately 1.5 million international visitors in 2017.
Northern Western Australia (WA) hosted over 1.5 million domestic and approximately 100 000 international visitors in 2017. The Northern Territory (NT) displayed a similar trend domestically with 1.5 million domestic visitors, and almost 300 000 international visitors for 2017.
In northern WA in 2017, the largest international visitor markets were the United States of America (USA), Germany and New Zealand. For the NT, the largest international markets in 2017 were the USA, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Germany. In Tropical North Qld, visitors from China were the largest international market share in 2017, followed by the USA and Japan. Greater China had the highest spend of all international markets across Qld, the NT and WA.
Tourism Australia confirmed that Western international markets are most likely to visit Northern Australia. Tourism Australia explained that this was ‘a reflection of the fact that the Western markets have a higher rate of repeat visitation’, which means they are ‘much more willing to disperse and discover the rest of Australia’ on return visits.
Economic Impact of Tourism
The Office of Northern Australia outlined the significant economic contribution of the tourism sector in Northern Australia and stated:
With less than six per cent of Australia’s population, the Northern Australia tourism industry … regularly ‘punches above its weight’. Total expenditure by tourists across Northern Australia was estimated to be over $9.9 billion in 2014‑15. In total, tourism in Northern Australia is estimated to contribute approximately 0.5 per cent to Australia’s total [Gross Domestic Product].
The Qld Tourism Industry Council advised that the tourism regions of Qld that are in Northern Australia attracted $6.6 billion worth of visitor expenditure in the year ending March 2017. Tourist activity associated with the Great Barrier Reef contributed $5.7 billion to Australia’s economy in 2015-2016. Further, Deloitte Access Economics stated that Great Barrier Reef tourism supported approximately 59 000 full-time jobs in Australia in the same year.
In northern WA, tourists spent $1.4 billion in the year ending March 2017. Tourism WA further advised that tourism is a ‘key economic driver’ for WA, and has generated 109 000 jobs across the state.
The NT Department of Tourism and Culture (DTC) stated that the NT is more reliant on tourism than the northern states, with tourism contributing $1.76 billion to the NT’s economy in 2014‑2015 and directly or indirectly employing 11.5 per cent of the NT’s total workforce.
The Northern Regional Development Australia Alliance (Northern RDA Alliance) advised that across WA, the NT and Qld, tourism directly and indirectly employs 350 000 people. The Northern RDA Alliance further stated that tourism provides much needed employment opportunities in regional and remote parts of Northern Australia. The NT DTC added that tourism created an ‘opportunity to provide jobs to Indigenous people where there are few other options’ in regional and remote areas.
Tourism was also seen as an additional or alternative industry for communities that have a high reliance on mining and/or agriculture. Kakadu Tourism, for example, stated that ‘for Kakadu, the end of uranium mining means that the region will depend on tourism as the major industry and employment provider.’ The Outback Qld Tourism Association similarly stated that for its region:
The tourism industry is still a relatively small sector compared to the mining and agricultural sectors in terms of economic impact but it is seen as part of a sustainable long-term pathway towards a diversified and vibrant economy.
Role of Government
Australian Government Tourism Funding and Policy Initiatives
The Australian Government supports the tourism industry in Northern Australia in a number of ways which include marketing (Tourism Australia), investment attraction and development (Austrade), business development, and grant funding. The Australian Government also provides significant infrastructure funding, including through the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, which is outlined in Chapter 4. Some federal funding for tourism is specifically targeted at Northern Australia, such as the Northern Australia Tourism Initiative (NATI), while other funding is available Australia-wide, such as the Tourism 2020 strategy.
Northern Australia Tourism Initiative
The $13.6 million NATI was developed in response to the Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. The NATI extends two existing programs in order to ‘better target the needs of the north Australian tourism industry’ — the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and the Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS).
The Entrepreneurs’ Programme connects businesses to private sector advisors and facilitators in order to help the businesses grow. Services include business evaluation, growth services, supply chain facilitation, and tourism partnerships. Business Growth Grants are also available as part of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, to assist in implementing the recommendations of the advisors and facilitators. Business advisors are located in Cairns, Broome and Darwin and as of 31 January 2017, 255 services had been provided to tourism businesses in Northern Australia.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science advised that since the launch of the NATI, over 100 businesses had accessed the Entrepreneurs’ Programme. The Department further stated that:
Preliminary data indicates that Northern Australian tourism businesses which have completed the business evaluation service have increased their revenue by 15 per cent and their full-time-equivalent employment by an average of nine per cent. Some of the businesses that have participated in the program have in fact been at risk of closing or in decline because of the economic circumstances of their region … [these] clients have been able to be assisted in surviving and potentially looking to continue growth into the future.
The Australian Government halved the financial threshold for businesses in Northern Australia to be eligible to access the Entrepreneurs’ Programme from $1.5 million to $750 000. Some tourism businesses in Northern Australia still considered that this threshold is too high and may be a barrier to growth in the north. This is discussed further in Chapter 5.
The ASBAS connects small tourism businesses and people wanting to start a small tourism business with low cost business advisory services. The Office of Northern Australia advised that services available as part of the ASBAS cover topics including: ‘funding avenues and financial analysis; building your business; making the most of your talent and team; management capabilities; digital engagement implementation; and tourism ready.’
Tourism 2020 is a ‘whole-of-government and industry long-term strategy to build the resilience and competitiveness of Australia’s tourism industry and grow its economic contribution.’ Launched in 2009, Tourism 2020 aims to increase visitor expenditure to over $115 billion by 2020 (from a base of $70 billion in 2009). Tourism Australia stated that ‘we are on track to achieve our goal of more than A$115 billion in overnight spend by 2020.’
Federal, State and Territory Tourism Ministers identified four policy priorities under Tourism 2020, which are to:
‘encourage high-quality tourism experiences, including Indigenous tourism;
limit the tax, red tape and other regulatory burden [the tourism] industry faces;
undertake coordinated and effective marketing campaigns to drive demand; and
work with industry to support the development of tourism infrastructure that can drive demand.’
In 2015, an Implementation Plan was also agreed to by Tourism Ministers, in order to deliver key reforms consistent with the four policy priorities.
The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) works to facilitate investment, attract foreign investment into Australia, and also strengthen the tourism industry. Austrade has a range of initiatives which support tourism in Northern Australia:
Regional Tourism Infrastructure Investment Attraction Strategy 2016‑2021: this five year commitment between Austrade and Tourism Australia focuses on working with state and territory governments to attract foreign investment into regional tourism infrastructure. The Strategy is initially targeting eight pilot regions which have shown ‘signs of growth’ in their tourism sectors, but have not experienced significant investment. Two of these pilot regions are located in Northern Australia: Katherine, NT and the Whitsundays, Qld.
Tourism Major Project Facilitation Service: provides tourism investors with a central contact point in the Australian Government to help guide investors through approval processes at both the federal and state or territory level. Austrade advised that five projects in Northern Australia are currently benefiting from this scheme.
Northern Australia Investment Forum: the first of these forums was held in Darwin in 2015, and the second in Cairns in 2017. Austrade advised that it invites ‘foreign investors who have an interest in Northern Australian opportunities to come and hear about those opportunities.’
Tourism Australia is responsible for the international marketing of Australia as a tourism destination. The role of Tourism Australia is discussed further in Chapter 3.
Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure Programme
To assist in meeting the Tourism 2020 targets, in 2014 Federal, State and Territory Tourism Ministers endorsed the Tourism Demand Driver Infrastructure (TDDI) programme. Under the TDDI programme, the Australian Government allocated $43.1 million over four years to the state and territory governments to 'drive demand, improve quality and increase tourism expenditure'. The TDDI programme is scheduled to terminate on 30 June 2018.
City Deals in Northern Australia
The Australian Government has outlined seven City Deals with states and territories and local governments as part of its Smart Cities Plan. City Deals bring together ‘the three levels of government, the community and private enterprise to create place-based partnerships’, and ‘align the planning, investment and governance necessary to accelerate growth and job creation, stimulate urban renewal and drive economic reforms.’ Two of these City Deals are located in Northern Australia: Darwin, NT and Townsville, Qld.
The Townsville City Deal was signed on 9 December 2016 and outlines a 15 year commitment to invest in and revitalise Townsville. The Townsville City Deal includes a number of initiatives which will support the tourism industry, including: developing the North Qld Stadium and Townsville Entertainment and Convention Centre, expanding the Townsville port, and improving educational tourism capabilities. The implementation plan for this City Deal was released in April 2017, and the first annual progress report released in April 2018.
In May 2017, the Federal and NT Governments similarly announced an intention to develop a City Deal for Darwin. Work to identify the scope and focus of the City Deal is currently underway.
State and Territory Government Tourism Funding and Initiatives
State and territory governments are responsible for the domestic marketing of tourism and the development of tourism products. State governments also provide funding to Regional Tourism Organisations (RTOs).
Qld, WA and the NT have developed tourism targets for their jurisdictions as part of the overarching Tourism 2020 strategy, aiming to increase their respective overnight visitor expenditure levels to $2.2 billion (NT), $12 billion (WA) and $30 billion (Qld) by 2020.
A number of the initiatives undertaken by state and territory governments to reach these goals, and support the tourism industry more broadly, are outlined below. The agencies responsible for the domestic marketing of Northern Australia are examined further in Chapter 3.
Tourism NT is responsible for the marketing of the NT as a tourist destination and facilitating the sustainable growth of the NT tourism industry. Tourism NT also provides industry assistance, such as managing programs to improve the digital capacity of local tourism operators.
Tourism Central Australia advised that the NT has already met and exceeded its 2020 target, reaching $2.5 billion in overnight visitor expenditure in the year ending September 2016.
In 2018 the NT Government announced a $103 million tourism stimulus package, to be rolled out over a two year period. This package, entitled Turbocharging Tourism, includes funding for marketing, tourism infrastructure and programs, as well as events, festivals and tourism experiences.
In 2017, the NT Government released Our Economic Future, outlining an economic development framework for the Territory. Our Economic Future included tourism as a key growth sector for the NT, and listed 11 high level actions to support the tourism industry. The actions covered areas such as: increasing visitor numbers and expenditure; tourism research; increasing aviation and cruise ships; diversifying the tourism products available; cultural and nature tourism; and planning and investment.
The Qld Department of Innovation, Tourism Industry Development and the Commonwealth Games facilitates growth in Qld’s tourism economy. Key roles include ‘investment attraction, policy, planning and industry engagement for tourism industry development and coordinating tourism outcomes across other Qld Government agencies.’
Tourism and Events Qld is a statutory body of the Qld Government and is responsible for ‘marketing, destination and experience development and [is] the major events agency, working in partnership with the state's tourism and events industries.'
The Qld Government partnered with the tourism industry to create DestinationQ, in order to reach its 2020 tourism target. A key aspect of DestinationQ is an annual forum which ‘brings government and industry leaders together to discuss priorities for ensuring the industry remains competitive.’ A 20 year plan for tourism in the state was also developed as part of DestinationQ.
The Qld Government also developed the Advancing Tourism 2016‑2020 plan, which aims 'to increase market share and boost tourism jobs’. The strategic priorities for Advancing Tourism 2016-2020 are to:
‘Grow quality products, events and experiences;
Invest in infrastructure and access;
Build a skilled workforce and business capabilities; and
Seize the opportunity in Asia.’
As a supplement to Advancing Tourism 2016-2020, in 2016 the Qld Government released Advancing Tourism in North Qld. This plan takes the same strategic priorities as Advancing Tourism 2016-2020 and applies them to the North Qld context.
The Qld Government is also preparing the first North Qld Regional Plan, which will set out a long term strategic direction for the region. The Qld Government advised that, in relation to tourism, the North Qld Regional Plan will:
… examine opportunities to develop and promote tourism across the region (including a regional brand, eco and cultural tourism opportunities in addition to adventure and agri-tourism).
The Qld Government also provides funding to the state’s 13 RTOs.
Tourism WA is a statutory authority and has responsibility for promoting WA as a tourism destination. Tourism WA also provides funding to the state’s five RTOs.
The WA Government developed the WA 2020 Tourism Strategy in 2012, which aims to increase the value of WA tourism to $12 billion by 2020. The WA 2020 Tourism Strategy outlines seven focus areas for the state: brand, Indigenous tourism, infrastructure, Asia, business travel, events and regional travel. To support the regional travel aspect of the strategy, the WA Government developed a Caravan and Camping Action Plan 2014-2018 and a Cruise Shipping Strategic Plan 2012-2020.
A 2017 audit of the WA 2020 Tourism Strategy by the WA Auditor General forecast that the state would fall $800 million below its $12 billion target. The Auditor General advised that ‘there is still time for Tourism WA to achieve its goal, although it will be challenging.’ In response, Tourism WA stated that it ‘remains committed to working with [its] partners to increase visitor numbers and spend for the benefit of all Western Australians.’
Regional Tourism Organisations
RTOs are responsible for the marketing of their specific region. There are 13 RTOs in Qld; two in the NT; and five in WA.
The Qld Government stated that RTOs are generally:
… private sector, membership-based bodies that play a role in marketing and developing destinations, and coordinating the efforts of industry, local government and the community to grow tourism.
Tourism Central Australia further explained the role of the RTOs and stated that they provide a ‘critical link between industry and government’, a focus on regional marketing, and ‘on the ground services’ which may include running Visitor Information Centres, product development and business advice.
Funding and Structure of RTOs
The RTOs receive funding from a variety of sources, including local, state and territory government funding, and industry funding. Tourism Central Australia described the funding arrangements for RTOs as ‘ad hoc’ and that the variety of sources of funding see RTOs being ‘pulled in many different directions’, which can mean ‘sacrificing projects that are crucial to tourism development to satisfy the political requirements of these funding partners.’
Tourism Central Australia called for a national approach to the funding of RTOs, and suggested 'a business levy attached to rates across the nation, or a similar funding program that is not linked to election cycles and is set in legislation'.
The Outback Qld Tourism Association recommended structural reform of RTOs throughout Australia, and that the Australian Government contribute to funding state tourism organisations and RTOs by 'introducing a levy through the GST'. Tourism Tropical North Qld also identified the importance of RTO funding and supported 'the establishment of adequate and sustainable funding mechanisms for regional tourism management organisations'.
The Livingstone Shire Council (LSC) advised that funding from local governments for RTOs is matched by funding from the state government. As such, a reduction in local council funding may result in a similar reduction from the state government. The LSC stated it is ‘doing the heavy lifting in the Central Qld region in order to keep the matched funding’ from the state government, as other councils in the region have reduced their funding allocations. The LSC further advised that ‘it would seem there are no consequences from the state government for councils that do not wish to contribute’ to their RTO.
Capricorn Enterprise agreed and stated that ‘there should be a directive from the state government and the state minister to recalcitrant councils around the state’ who are not providing adequate support to their RTO.
Cape York Sustainable Futures recommended an RTO be established to represent the Cape York region, as it is ‘overlooked’ under its current RTO. Cape York Sustainable Futures further stated that Cape York has a different tourism profile and development needs to other tourism centres covered by its RTO, such as Cairns and Port Douglas.
Local Government Tourism Funding and Initiatives
Local governments have a role in promoting and developing the tourism industry. The Qld Government stated that Qld's local government councils focus on:
… developing their local area, and driving or participating in local tourism development initiatives. Some councils have special economic development units with a tourism development and marketing role. Local governments are also responsible for developing planning schemes for their local government areas, which can impact tourism development.
Local Councils from across the north including Rockhampton Council, the City of Karratha, the Shire of Halls Creek and the Shire of Broome have identified tourism as a major economic enabler for their council area. Rockhampton Regional Council, for example, stated that it had ‘assumed a greater role in tourism, and is working collaboratively with businesses to enhance the overall tourism economy and experience in the region.’
Local Tourism Organisations
Local Tourism Organisations (LTOs) promote and support tourism in their local region. The Qld Government stated that LTOs are usually ’private sector, membership based bodies’ that promote their local area and drive or participate in local tourism development.
Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree (TPDD), the LTO for the Douglas Shire, stated that destination marketing is its key role, with 80 per cent of its output being marketing related. The TPDD further advised that it is also involved in industry development and engagement, and capacity building for local tourism operators.
Funding of Visitor Information Centres
Visitor Information Centres 'provide tourist information to visitors to encourage them to stay longer, spend more money, experience more attractions and revisit the region.’ The Broome Visitor Centre stated that people who come into visitor centres ‘are likely to spend an extra two nights and an extra $104 per person.’
Visitor Information Centres may be operated by local governments, RTOs or private enterprise. The East Kimberley Marketing Group (EKMG) advised that while most Visitor Information Centres in WA are run by local Shires, the Kununurra Visitor Centre is not. The EKMG further advised that as a consequence, the Kununurra Visitor Centre needed ‘to be creative in the ways that it can service' visitors to the Kimberley and that it:
… relies on tour sales commissions, membership and moving away from its core business of 'visitor servicing' in order to keep its doors open (i.e. production of a local phone book, management of a museum, local coordinator role for a large-scale community event).
The Broome Visitor Centre stated that its funding model is ‘vulnerable’ to economic fluctuations, as over 90 per cent of its funding comes from commissions, membership, advertising and retail sales, while seven per cent is provided by the local shire.
Further discussion of the role of Visitor Information Centres is in Chapter 5.
There is no doubt that the tourism industry has a critical role in stimulating and sustaining Northern Australia’s economy. In particular, the development of tourist attractions and experiences can attract visitors to regional and remote parts of Australia and assist in supporting these local economies to grow and, in some cases, thrive. Development of a tourism industry may also enable communities within Northern Australia that have been reliant on a single industry or product to diversify offerings, thereby improving economic sustainability.
The Committee acknowledges the range of Government policy initiatives and funding programs available to support the tourism industry in Northern Australia. In particular, the Northern Australia Tourism Initiative has the potential to be a game changer for tourism businesses across the north. Throughout the course of the inquiry, the Committee was interested to hear from tourism businesses, peak bodies and entrepreneurs, about how the Government could improve this program to better meet the needs of industry. The Committee explores this issue further in Chapter 5.
The Committee welcomes the announcement of City Deals in Northern Australia, and is pleased to see that the implementation of the Townsville City Deal is well underway. The Darwin City Deal is also progressing. Implementation of the Darwin City Deal has the potential to create major opportunities for tourism in the north, including by stimulating investment in new tourism attractions and events, supporting the development of cultural tourism, and subsequently increasing visitation.
The Committee was pleased to hear about the range of state, regional and local initiatives that have a role in stimulating tourism in Northern Australia. In Chapter 3 the Committee further discusses how these jurisdictions, along with the federal government, could work together in relation to the marketing of Northern Australia.
The Committee acknowledges that current funding arrangements for regional and local tourism organisations and visitor centres create challenges for the provision of services and long term planning. Consideration by the states and territories as to a more sustainable and consistent approach to funding could boost the capacity of these organisations to support the tourism industry.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in partnership with Northern Australian jurisdictions, develop new City Deals similar to Townsville (including in Cairns) and that the Darwin City Deal be further progressed as a matter of priority.