Multiple agencies and levels of government have a part in attracting investment, and planning for and developing the Northern Australian tourism industry. While this ensures that all levels of government are committed to the success of the tourism industry, there is a lesser commitment to ensuring coordination and non‑duplication of marketing and planning efforts across jurisdictions. Further, a large proportion of government efforts are focussed on tourism marketing, as opposed to the development of tourism destinations and products on the ground.
The tourism industry in Northern Australia consists mainly of small to medium sized businesses (often family owned and operated). These businesses may access government programs such as the Australian Government’s Northern Australian Tourism Initiative (NATI), although eligibility requirements may prevent some smaller tourism operators, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism businesses, from accessing some of the programs under the NATI. Grant funding is also provided (although not always on an ongoing basis) by the Federal and State and Territory Governments to support tourism businesses and tourism regions more broadly.
The costs of doing business in Northern Australia can be significant. These costs can include government regulation and red tape, insurance, and accessing land, marine areas and/or national parks. Additional challenges for tourism businesses, particularly in regional and remote areas, include shortages of labour, skills and staff accommodation, and accessing quality and reliable telecommunications services.
Tourism businesses rely on visitor information centres, basic amenities, and tourism infrastructure to support visitors to their region. Investment in these facilities, particularly in remote and regional areas, may make an area more ‘tourist friendly’ and attract increased visitation.
Planning and Investment
Coordination across Northern Australia
Government responsibility for the development of tourism in Northern Australia is shared between multiple government agencies and jurisdictions. Sealink explained that this can lead to duplication and a ‘lack of expertise and local feel for key initiatives’ in Northern Australia. The Northern Regional Development Australia (RDA) Alliance advised that state, regional and local tourism organisations are ‘often competing with each other to attract tourists, events and investment’, which can impede collaboration across the north.
Sealink recommended a single agency be tasked with developing tourism in the north and stated:
Without the single focussed agency (or part thereof) Northern Australia will continue to compete with Australia’s urban southern centres and will continue to not realise investment, co-ordinate cross border strategy, grow its product and develop its regional strengths.
Sealink advised that functions of this agency should include:
coordinating major tourism projects across the north;
attracting public and private investment into tourism projects;
facilitating a grants and concessions scheme for investment;
working with government and non-government stakeholders on infrastructure projects;
strengthening Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism products and capacity;
working with marketing bodies to develop a marketing strategy for Northern Australia; and
working with national parks to enable private sector investment, resolve land tenure and management issues and improve public access.
The Northern RDA Alliance recommended the formation of a Northern Australia Tourism Advisory Group (NATAG), which would ‘provide strategic advice [to the government] on the development of tourism in the north.’ The NATAG would be made up of tourism operators (including an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander operator) and other relevant stakeholders, as well as Tourism Australia, state, territory and regional tourism organisations, and the Northern RDA Alliance.
Wildlife Management International expressed similar sentiments and stated that the formation of a Northern Australia tourism council or ‘think tank’ could promote tourism across state and territory borders in the north, and also ‘keep Northern Australia on the tourist agenda at all levels.’
Visitor survey data can be used by government agencies, tourism bodies and tourism operators to better target their marketing campaigns and inform planning and investment decisions. Wildlife Management International stated that tourism data and analysis is needed to support growth of the tourism industry in Northern Australia, but that relevant data is not available. Wildlife Management International stated:
A fundamental requirement for stimulating tourism in Northern Australia is greatly improved capacity to monitor, analyse and assess the local tourism industry objectively. In the “Top End” of the Northern Territory the tourist industry is in crisis now, and it needs stimulation. But for a variety of reasons, the data needed to assess trends objectively are neither collected by Government nor available through other sources.
Savannah Way Limited agreed and stated that visitor data for Northern Australia is generally ‘very limited and extrapolated from such unreliable samples that it is virtually useless.’
The Northern RDA Alliance recommended that Tourism Research Australia work with relevant industry and government stakeholders to increase and improve current data collection and analysis, in order to inform product development and marketing. The Queensland (Qld) Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) similarly advocated for investment in a visitor research program for Northern Australia. Charles Darwin University (CDU) advised it had the capabilities to assist with developing and collecting independent, credible and detailed tourism data for the Northern Territory (NT).
Tourism Operators and Entrepreneurs
Accessing Australian Government Support
Tourism operators looking to expand their business, or entrepreneurs looking to enter Northern Australia’s tourism market, may access government initiatives to support their operations. The NATI and Australian Government grant programs, which provided assistance to tourism operators and projects across Northern Australia, are outlined below.
The Northern Australia Tourism Initiative
The $13.6 million NATI was launched following the Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. The NATI extends the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and the Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS) to the Northern Australian context.
A number of inquiry participants stated that they were unaware of the NATI, or the programs available as part of it. The Livingstone Shire Council, for example, was supportive of the ASBAS but stated that it needed to be advertised more widely as ‘many tourism-based businesses have not heard of this program.’
One of the eligibility requirements for accessing the Entrepreneurs’ Programme is that a business must have an annual turnover or operating expenditure of between $750 000 and $100 million. This amount was considered by some inquiry participants to be prohibitive to Northern Australian tourism businesses, many of which are small businesses.
Tourism Tropical North Qld (TTNQ) explained that the $750 000 eligibility threshold means that government assistance is being directed to established businesses that are already performing strongly. Ecotourism Australia agreed and stated:
If you are already turning over $750 000, you have got a pretty well‑functioning business. Tourism, certainly in regional areas, a lot of times is small businesses that are delivering really good products, but to turn over a million bucks is a big deal … and you probably don't need the hand up. The ones that do are well below that.
The Office of Northern Australia advised that approximately 100 tourism businesses would be able to access the Entrepreneurs’ Programme each year under current eligibility requirements, and those who were ineligible could utilise the ASBAS. The Office of Northern Australia also stated, however, that the needs of small businesses should be further considered:
Small businesses in regional and remote areas across the north are often the most disadvantaged while also being the least economically resilient. Consideration should be given to ensuring eligibility criteria for government programs, including the Entrepreneurs' Programme, do not restrict access for these small tourism operators.
The Livingstone Shire Council recommended the threshold be ‘reduced to around $250 000 to $300 000’ in order to ‘provide opportunities for smaller regional tourism businesses’.
The Outback Highway Development Council (OHDC) observed that councils, individuals, and people or businesses working in partnerships, are ineligible for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme under the NATI, even if these groups have invested heavily in tourism. The TTNQ expressed similar sentiments and suggested that small tourism businesses should be able to partner together and create a tourism package, and if this package is valued over $750 000, access the NATI. The TTNQ further explained that allowing for business partnerships would assist in increasing the range of tourism products available in an area.
The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science (DIIS) advised that ‘there could be merit in tweaking’ the eligibility criteria for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme in order to enable the participation of more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have successful businesses in other sectors and are looking at expanding into tourism. The DIIS explained there were many Indigenous businesses in sectors such as agriculture that would have a turnover of more than $750 000 and would like to enter the tourism industry, ‘but at the moment they do not fit the criteria’ for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme.
The DIIS also advised that currently, to be eligible for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme you must be incorporated under the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) and have an Australian Company Number (ACN). As such, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses that are registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 and have an Indigenous Corporation Number (ICN) are excluded. Further, not-for-profits, incorporated associations and clubs which do not have an ACN are also ineligible. To illustrate, the DIIS stated that ‘the Royal Flying Doctor Service in the Northern Territory runs a leading tourist activity, but is excluded from Entrepreneurs’ Programme services on the basis of not having an ACN.’
To address this, the DIIS stated that ‘consideration could be given to removing the requirement for applicants to have an ACN’, and that the Entrepreneurs’ Programme accept applicants with an ICN.
The Northern RDA Alliance stated that there is a gap in government support for tourism start-ups. The Remote Area Planning and Development Board agreed and advised that there was a need for a fund with an entry threshold of closer to $50 000. The DIIS advised that there are parts of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme that assist start-ups, but that these parts are not available under the NATI.
The DIIS also suggested that the scope of the NATI could be expanded to include the Australian Government’s Innovation Connections initiative, which ‘provides small and medium sized businesses with access to expert technology advice’ and provides matched grant funding to support collaboration between researchers and businesses. Currently, Innovation Connections does not list tourism as an eligible sector.
Tourism Grant Funding
The Office of Northern Australia stated that federal, state and territory grant programs for tourism have tended to overlap, which can create confusion in the tourism industry. As such, the Office of Northern Australia advised that ‘developing a shared understanding of priorities and coordinating efforts across the four Northern Australian jurisdictions would provide both government and industry with opportunities to leverage investments and to improve outcomes.’
Capricorn Enterprise stated that the abolition of some federal tourism grants, including the T-QUAL Grants Programme and the Tourism Industry Regional Development Fund Grants Programme, ‘destroyed incredibly successful programs and opportunities to grow tourism in regional Australia.’ Capricorn Enterprise therefore recommended a grant program for tourism product development be re-established, with dollar-for-dollar grants for small to medium enterprises. Capricorn Enterprise explained that this is necessary as ‘lending from banking institutions for tourism expansion, particularly in regional Australia, is widely known to be futile.’
The Australian Government currently provides funding for the Tourism Demand-Driver Infrastructure (TDDI) programme, in order for states and territories to ‘drive demand, improve quality and increase tourism expenditure.’ The TDDI is expected to terminate on 30 June 2018. The NT Department of Tourism and Culture (DTC) recommended the Australian Government fund the TDDI programme for a further four years and ‘allocate a significant portion specifically for Northern Australia.’
The Northern RDA Alliance suggested that new product development could be supported through the continuation of the TDDI programme, 'but with adjustments to suit a coordinated Northern Australia approach.'
Investment and Development
The Qld Tourism Operators Council observed that the majority of Tourism Australia and state government funding for tourism relates to marketing of existing tourism sites, while there is little funding for capacity building or product development. Ecotourism Australia agreed and suggested a greater focus was needed on destination and product development. Australia’s North West Tourism (ANWT) similarly stated that product development was ‘lacking in terms of investment’.
The ANWT also advised that the Pilbara was a region that would benefit from tourism development and strategic planning. The ANWT explained that the Pilbara’s economy was changing, from having a singular focus on mining and construction, to embracing tourism. To capitalise on this, the ANWT recommended incentives be provided to tourism operators to ‘develop new product in the Pilbara and help establish this region as a tourism destination of renown.’
The Whitsunday region was also highlighted as needing investment. Tourism Whitsundays advised that, despite a number of investors being interested in establishing tourism operations in the region, government support has been lacking. Tourism Whitsundays stated that ‘the Whitsundays is seen as this natural icon and as a result of that you find that the government is risk averse when it comes to investing or supporting investment in such an area.’
In order to improve and increase the development of tourism destinations across the north, the CDU recommended a review of notable tourist attractions and infrastructure be undertaken, along with ‘consideration of incentives for private/complementary investment for assets which are deteriorating and the development of investment ready precincts.’ The CDU advised that this would help ensure that private investment in the tourism industry is coordinated with the development of supporting public infrastructure.
Tax incentives were also put forward as a way to encourage private sector investment in the north. The Douglas Chamber of Commerce recommended ‘a reduction in the corporate taxation rate for companies that have 90 per cent of their operations above the Tropic of Capricorn.’
Ecotourism Australia put forward a tax proposal based on a program operating in Malaysia and stated:
Malaysia has a program that designates zones that require development. They allow investors to go into those areas, invest and build businesses, and their tax does not kick in until they have got their capital investment back; but then they tax at normal rates after that. So if you are looking for a fast way of getting investors to move in, that is an easy way and it is at no risk to government.
Tourism Australia advised that the Australian Government’s Regional Tourism Infrastructure Investment Attraction Strategy 2016-2021 will assist with attracting investment to its pilot regions. The pilot regions under this program which are located in Northern Australia are Katherine, NT and the Whitsundays, Qld. Tourism Australia explained that this strategy will:
… get the federal government, the state governments and also the local governments focused on a region to look at everything that can be done, whether it be trying to reduce red tape or run events or things that can really be done to promote a region to make it attractive for investment. [Tourism Australia operates] in that international sphere, so looking at attracting international investment. It's a lot harder in regional Australia. But, if we all work together to make changes in a region, hopefully there will be domestic investment as well, and the tide might rise.
Costs of Doing Business
Some tourism businesses expressed frustration at regulatory processes associated with establishing and operating tourism businesses in Northern Australia. Tourism Top End drew attention to a 2016 Deloitte report which found that the cost of government red tape for the tourism and hospitality sector in the NT was $29 million per year.
Of particular concern was the need to address regulatory issues at the local, state or territory, and federal levels, and often with multiple agencies within each jurisdiction. This was seen as particularly burdensome for small businesses and new entrants to the industry, who may have difficulty identifying all necessary regulatory requirements.
Daydream Island Resort and Spa, for example, described having to ‘jump through hoops three or four times, whether it be with local council, state government and then federal government, to get things done.’ The Royal Automobile Club (RAC) of Western Australia (WA) similarly stated that the multijurisdictional approvals that were required presented a 'challenge in managing the cost and delivery timeframe' for development projects.
A concern raised by the Port Douglas Steam Train Company (PDSTC) was the length of time it can take to obtain a permit to establish or expand a tourism business. The PDSTC stated that:
… it is not so much the cost of the permit, it is the time it takes to get it from there to approval. There are builders and a whole bunch of people waiting and sometimes the interest rates move up or the banks decide that it is not viable at this point and they pull out. There are many people … who say, “It is all too hard,” or “We'll go to New Zealand,” or “We'll go elsewhere.”’
To address this issue, the PDSTC recommended the establishment of a ‘regionally based one‑stop‑shop’ for major investments in the north. This one-stop-shop would streamline and expedite the approvals process for entrepreneurs and potential investors.
The TTNQ similarly recommended the establishment of a single approval point within a local region and stated:
… we need to have a central place where … you are able to go through a fairly clear process so that you understand in advance exactly which permits, which processes and which regulations you must adhere to. At the moment, there is a multitude of different departments that you need to work through. Quite often, one of the problems is that you need to get a tick-off on one permit before you can proceed to the next process. That builds time, and time is money when you are developing a business.
Tourism Top End and the RAC further recommended regulatory processes be reviewed and streamlined. Tourism Top End recommended governments take a ‘customer centric service delivery approach’ to regulation, while the RAC suggested a ‘timely and outcomes focussed approach.’
Insurance costs for homes, contents and businesses in Northern Australia have risen over recent years, and are generally higher than insurance costs in southern cities. This is primarily due to the heightened risk to homes and businesses from extreme weather events.
The City of Karratha described the cost of insurance in the north as ‘exorbitant’, which ‘scares off investment in the north.’ Palm Bay Corporation, based in the Whitsundays, described its experience of trying to obtain insurance and stated:
… when we tried to get insurance, it was so prohibitive, so expensive that we made a decision not to get it. In fact, we were really struggling to get anyone to say that they would insure us.
Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree (TPDD) advised that, as well as affordability issues, the limited number of insurance providers in the region has posed a challenge for businesses. Having seen the price of insurance rise over recent years, the Douglas Chamber of Commerce stated that it suspected insurance companies were deliberately pricing themselves out of the market.
To reduce the financial burden of insurance premiums, the Accommodation Association of Australia (AAA) recommended a reinsurance pool for Northern Australia be established. The AAA explained that this was a recommendation of the Northern Australia Insurance Premiums Taskforce, which was established by the Australian Government, and had released its final report in 2016.
Public Liability Insurance
Ecotourism Australia raised the issue of public liability insurance and stated that ‘one of the biggest risks to businesses, certainly in the nature game and adventure tourism, is public liability.’ Whitsunday Segway Tours outlined its experience of managing public liability insurance claims and stated:
Last year we had two—how should I say it—questionable public liability claims … They have just been resolved, both in our favour. But when we came to renewal, which was last November, our insurance, which previously was $4000, went up to $50 000 … Then we got more brokers involved, and … we got one for $12 000. But the thing is that in those claims we were found to be … at no fault.
Whitsunday Segway Tours further explained that these claims came from ‘no win, no fee’ law firms, and as such the claimants ‘had nothing to lose’ by attempting to claim for insurance. Ecotourism Australia suggested Australia look to New Zealand, which has a ‘no-fault’ insurance system to support its large adventure tourism market.
Access to Land, National Parks and Marine Areas
A large proportion of Northern Australia is covered by native title or other land tenure arrangements, pastoral leases, and/or national parks. As such, establishing a tourism business in Northern Australia may require obtaining permits, permissions from traditional owners and/or national parks, and approvals from multiple jurisdictions.
Access to Land
The City of Karratha stated that ‘Northern Australia has proportionately more determined native title, more Indigenous land and more pastoral leases than Southern Australia.’ Tourism WA stated that 94 per cent of the land mass in northern WA is subject to native title claim or determination, while the NT DTC stated that ‘50 per cent of the Territory’s land mass and 80 per cent of its coastline is subject to the tenure arrangements of the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, with a large proportion of the remaining land likely to be subject to native title.’
The Qld Government advised these land arrangements present a ‘significant opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander landholders and land managers to participate in tourism development.’ Tourism Top End, however, highlighted challenges associated with establishing a tourism business on land subject to tenure arrangements. To illustrate, Tourism Top End stated that one Indigenous family had been ‘waiting for eight years for land tenure to be finalised, so they [could] start up an Indigenous tourism business.’
Tourism WA stated that ‘issues of tenure and land ownership impact on development timeframes and investment opportunities’, particularly for the development of eco-accommodation. Cape York Sustainable Futures (CYSF) also advised that ‘serious investment in tourism development cannot be expected until an investor can be satisfied their investment is secure and that land title uncertainties do not pose a risk.’
The Northern Land Council stated that it takes a minimum of six months for it to process expression of interest proposals from third parties wishing to start up a business on Aboriginal land. The Northern Land Council outlined reasons for the processing time and stated:
Typical reasons why proposals take an extended time to process are that: proponents fail to provide relevant information in a timely manner; we have difficulty finalising negotiations with proponents; traditional owner groups are unable to make decisions; there are funding limitations to hold meetings; there are resource issues; and we sometimes have delays in obtaining signatures from land trust members to complete agreements.
The Kimberley Land Council (KLC) commented that land subject to native title may not be able to be used as collateral in order to secure a bank loan and that this was a barrier to Indigenous tourism development. The KLC further commented that it may be difficult to lease native title land.
The difficulty of financing a tourism business on native title land was illustrated by the Kooljaman wilderness camp on the Dampier Peninsula. The manager of Kooljaman stated:
The land that our business is on is native title, and we don't have the normal ways of going about getting financing. We don't have assets that we can finance things against et cetera. We have very old infrastructure, and we have very little cash in the bank … We need to keep operating as a successful tourism venture, because we do contribute so much to the local community, and we want to be the flagship for Indigenous tourism on the Dampier Peninsula. But we are going to need support to do that effectively.
The KLC stated that land tenure arrangements in Qld allowed for Aboriginal groups to secure finance:
… there's usually a different form of tenure—Aboriginal freehold—that operates in Qld that enables Aboriginal groups to use their tenure to access capital to either lease back or draw from a bank. If they do foreclose, there is an avenue for that tenure to remain with the Traditional Owners, so it's not lost per se.
The Western Australian Indigenous Tourism Operators Council recommended the Australian Government streamline its processes regarding accessing land for tourism purposes. The CYSF similarly stated that the state and federal governments needed to resolve land tenure and ownership issues as a priority. The ANWT stated that providing ‘clarity, assistance and a more streamlined approach’ to approval processes would ‘enable private sector investment in tourism.’ The ANWT further recommended that the government:
Alleviate the complexities of land tenure that currently do not support landholders who do not have freehold title, including Aboriginal people and pastoralists, and are looking to develop tourism product on their leases.
The Office of Northern Australia stated that work was underway at the federal level to improve native title regulation:
Work is also being progressed through the White Paper to develop innovative ways to use exclusive native title rights for commercial purposes including tourism. The aim is to assist Indigenous landowners and businesses to create, on a voluntary basis, transferable and bankable interests (that is, instruments that can be used as collateral for commercial loans) without extinguishing native title … Austrade is also working with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to deliver networking opportunities for international investors and Indigenous land holders, and a register of investment opportunities on Indigenous land, endorsed by Indigenous land holders.
Tourism WA was supportive of the pilot programs proposed under the Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, which aim to create more efficient processes regarding native title claims. The NT DTC agreed that these pilots are an ‘excellent start’, but that so far ‘little has been realised from these commitments that specifically relates to increased tourism investment.’
The NT DTC therefore recommended the Australian Government ‘investigate the effectiveness of the Northern Australia White Paper initiatives to deliver simpler and more secure land arrangements in northern Australia.’
The NT DTC also recommended the Australian Government:
‘continue to work with key stakeholders, including the Land Councils and NT Government to implement the recommendations of the [Council of Australian Government] Investigation into Indigenous Land Administration and Use; [and]
fund positions within the Land Councils for the purpose of facilitating the progress of tourism related opportunities on Aboriginal land and land subject to native title.’
Fess for Accessing Land
Kimberley Quest, a marine tourism operator in northern WA, stated that a major concern for its business was the possibility of fees for accessing Aboriginal land along the coast being increased with little notice. The Kimberley Quest stated:
… the biggest concern, I suppose, is accessing the land: the fees. That's not a concern in that we understand it needs to happen but in how it's handled. There are five groups, I believe, along the coastline, so there is a fee to pay to each group. If it's a fee … where you're paying $20 per head, that's an affordable fee to pay between five groups. But the northern group are implying around $250 per head, so if each of the five groups were to imply that fee we would need at least two years notice so that we could build it into our price structure.
True North Adventure Cruises expressed similar sentiments, and stated that it hoped for a consistent fee from all traditional owner groups.
The Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation in northern WA stated that it is looking at developing an online visitor pass for tourists to access the native title land. Wunambal Gaambera Aboriginal Corporation further advised that some of the revenue raised through the visitors pass will be used to develop a cultural tourism product.
The Office of Northern Australia stated that 56 per cent of north Qld, 45 per cent of the NT and 38 per cent of northern WA was held under pastoral lease. This type of lease generally restricts land use to grazing activities, which prevents leaseholders from using the land for other business opportunities such as tourism.
Consequently, Tourism WA stated that pastoral leases, which can sometimes coexist with native title, inhibit tourism development opportunities. Tourism WA further stated that it had been advocating for reform to pastoral leases at the state level for a number of years.
The Office of Northern Australia stated that the Australian Government:
… supports northern jurisdictions removing unnecessary restrictions on pastoral leases. This will make the land tenure system simpler for all leaseholders and investors. Pastoral leases that provide longer tenure and broader forms of economic activity will attract more investment to the north and create a more resilient and diversified northern economy.
Access to National Parks
Northern Australia is home to a number of national parks and world heritage areas. Some national parks, such as Kakadu, Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Christmas Island, and Pulu Keeling, are managed at the federal level. Other national parks are managed by the states and territories. Traditional owners also have joint management arrangements with governments for some national parks.
Tourism Top End stated that permit arrangements in some national parks can prevent a business from securing finance, and may lead to uncertainty for the industry. Tourism Top End explained that:
The maximum licence or permit to operate in a Park is five years … [however] a minimum land tenure/leasehold/permit of 25 years would be required before a bank would consider funding a commercial operation. So clearly, the rules and regulations make our industry commercially unviable, yet we expect tourism operators to invest in delivering experiences, invest in new facilities and equipment, invest in marketing and promotion in the hope a licence or permit will be renewed.
In response to Tourism Top End’s evidence, Parks Australia stated that in the case of Kakadu National Park ‘there is not a set time for a licence or lease.’ Parks Australia further stated that it sets licence and lease lengths based on factors including the nature of the private investment, what return on investment is required, and the investors ‘track record.’
Townsville Enterprise confirmed that an impediment to tourism in Northern Australia is restrictions related to national parks that prevent tourism operators from operating within national parks or protected areas. Townsville Enterprise raised the example of Hinchinbrook Island National Park and stated that under the current management plan ‘you cannot obtain a permit to operate a commercial business on Hinchinbrook Island.’ Townsville Enterprise further explained that:
If you want to take tourism to the next level, we should have a commercial operator [on Hinchinbrook Island] doing guided tours and showing people. They would also obviously contribute to the maintenance of the island and be able to report back to national parks. So currently that is not allowed.
The Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation presented an ‘example of a struggle in Indigenous tourism’ related to national parks. Mr Ratara, Director of the Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation, stated that he had been in discussions for years about obtaining a lease to run a tourism business in a national park that is jointly managed by traditional owners (of which he is one) and the NT government. The Ngurratjuta/Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal Corporation stated:
The sticking point is Mr Ratara has been working formally for over three years now, and the lease on that property is still not finalised. Mr Ratara's comment this morning is he is tired. We are into the tourist season. We are halfway through it now. When this comes on we will have to wait until next year.
In response to concerns about the time taken for a lease within a national park to be approved, the NT DTC stated:
We're really keen to unlock some of those things. I've been speaking to the Northern Land Council, and will have similar discussions with the Central Land Council, about outposting a Department of Tourism and Culture officer into each of those land councils to help work through those issues and see what we can do to expedite some of those approvals.
Parks Australia also stated that it was working on improving its systems so that stakeholders ‘are not encumbered by processes that aren’t necessary or take too long.’ At the same time, Parks Australia advised that investors needed to consider challenges associated with establishing a business in a national park that is jointly managed with traditional owners, and build this into their business plan. Parks Australia stated:
Getting agreement from Traditional Owners and all relevant Aboriginals can take time. Involvement of Land Councils, extensive consultation periods and Board of Management approvals can prolong the time needed to secure new business opportunities. Commercial partners need to understand cultural responsibilities and custodianship requirement of Traditional Owners in using their land and include these set requirements into their planning and investment strategies.
Access to Marine Areas - Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is responsible for the management and protection of the Great Barrier Reef. Commercial activities and operations, including tourism, may require a permit from the GBRMPA to operate in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Tourism Whitsundays stated that the GBRMPA’s priority is the protection of the Great Barrier Reef, not tourism, which can make it ‘inflexible’ and ‘bureaucratic’. Projects Global agreed and stated that common complaints from marine park tourism operators included ‘the time taken to process permits, including renewals, unintended consequences of decisions and poor decisions made by the [GBRMPA].’
Renegade Fishing Charters similarly stated that the major hurdle for its business and potential expansion was the GBRMPA and issues with the granting of permits.
The GBRMPA advised that it had developed an online client portal and application system for permits which, once released, would ‘save businesses, individuals and communities more than $3 million every year by reducing the regulatory burden.’
The Whitsunday Island Camping Connections recommended GBRMPA be given discretionary powers to ensure ‘common sense’ solutions can be found, ‘instead of just getting bogged down with boxes to be ticked and time, money, stress and energy spent in unproductive ways.’ The Douglas Shire Council similarly stated that the GBRMPA needed ‘greater flexibility to allow these permits adapt to changing conditions and circumstances’, particularly for low‑impact activities.
The GBRMPA stated that it recognised ‘the need to modernise [its] management arrangements in relation to tourism activities.’
The Douglas Shire Council also stated that ‘the Cairns marine park plan … absolutely needs to be reviewed. While the TPDD agreed, it also considered that the GBRMPA had made ‘some great inroads with [its] permitting,’ particularly for larger operators who had achieved eco‑accreditation and were consequently granted an extension on their permit timeframe.
Explore Group Hamilton Island stated that there are ‘a huge number of permits out there’ that are not being used, and recommended the government consider recalling these permits. Tourism Whitsundays agreed and raised the option of having permit operate on a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ basis.
The GBRMPA advised that its policy requires permittees to use permits at least 50 days per vessel per year, averaged over the life of the permit. If this criterion is not met, when the permittee comes to renew (usually after six years) the GBRMPA can reallocate the permit. The GBRMPA further advised that a review of this policy had commenced to determine ‘if the level of use and the period over which the use is reviewed is appropriate for the current situation in the planning areas.’
The GBRMPA may also require tourism operators to pay bonds, either in the form of a cash payment or bank guarantee. The GBRMPA described the purpose of bonds and stated:
Bonds are a financial security that allows the [GBRMPA] ready access to funds to prevent, minimise or rehabilitate environmental harm caused by a permitted activity. The bond minimises risk to the Australian taxpayer so that public monies are not used to cover these costs, should they occur.
The Quicksilver Group, which has bank guarantees with the GBRMPA of almost $2 million, stated that raising bonds is a challenge, as its business is also required to purchase insurance for ‘exactly the same issues.’ Projects Global expressed similar sentiments and stated that the high bonds were unnecessary, as ‘over the last 40 years GBRMPA has only required a $100 000 payment out of any bond.’
The Quicksilver Group recommended bond amounts be reduced for larger businesses. For smaller businesses, the Quicksilver Group suggested the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators (AMPTO) could operate an industry based bond facility. The GBRMPA advised it had ‘responded to industry’s call’ for an industry led fund, and that AMPTO is leading work on exploring this issue.
Access to labour was described as ‘a critical issue’ for tourism businesses in Northern Australia. Hamilton Island Enterprises advised that there are workforce shortages across many aspects of the tourism and hospitality workforce, particularly in regional areas.
Many tourism and hospitality businesses in Northern Australia rely on international workers, particularly in peak seasons. The training of local workers is also central to the sustainability of the tourism industry. Accommodation for staff, particularly in remote areas, is another consideration for tourism operators and entrepreneurs.
Kakadu Tourism observed that ‘the seasonality of Northern Australia tourism means that the region will always rely (to a large extent) on seasonal and temporary workers’, including young adults from overseas who are visiting Australia as part of the Working Holiday Maker (WHM) program.
The Office of Northern Australia drew attention to visa reforms introduced in 2015 and 2016 to encourage WHMs to work in the Northern Australian tourism industry. The Northern RDA Alliance was supportive of these measures, while the NT DTC recommended ‘better implementation’ of WHM initiatives.
The Qld Government drew attention to a Australian Government tourism pilot programme in Northern Australia, operating under the Seasonal Workers Programme, where ‘seasonal workers from nine Pacific nations and Timor‑Leste can undertake a range of low and unskilled work in the tourism industry’. The Qld Government was supportive of this pilot, while also being mindful of ‘protecting and promoting local jobs where possible.’
Tourism Central Australia (TCA) stated that there are obstacles to hiring international workers and that there has been a ’declining number of visa approvals for people who want to work and travel since 2011’.
A number of inquiry participants made recommendations in order to encourage backpackers and other seasonal workers to work in the Northern Australian tourism industry. These included:
Workforce strategy: Kakadu Tourism recommended a whole of government employment strategy be developed to encourage more temporary and long term workers, both international and domestic to work in Northern Australia’s tourism industry.
Tax incentives: The Outback Qld Tourism Association recommended that backpackers working in remote Australia be made tax exempt, while Rockhampton Regional Council advocated for a tax incentive for WHMs who work in Northern Australia. The TCA recommended overseas workers be taxed in the same manner as Australian workers.
Period of Stay: The TTNQ recommended the Australian Government extend the allowable period of stay for WHMs working in remote locations. The Qld Government advised that ‘increasing the time period visa holders can stay with employers may give employers access to more skilled staff.’
Training: the CDU suggested training provisions for backpackers could be used to address seasonal skill shortages.
University Students: Tourism Top End proposed resetting the university study calendar so students have a break over the peak tourist season of June to August, and can fill workforce gaps.
Visas: The TCA recommended the process of applying for and obtaining a visa for WHMs should be made easier. The NT DTC advocated for the creation of a visa for Northern Australia that would meet Northern Australia’s ‘unique workforce needs.’ The NT DTC also recommended the age limit for WHMs be increased to 35 years, and that the tourism/hospitality sector be included as an eligible industry for the ‘second Working Holiday visa (Subclass 417).’
Changes to visa conditions: Daydream Island Resort and Spa raised concerns relating to proposed changes to the permanent residency visa eligibility and conditions under the Regional Skilled Migration Scheme. The Daydream Island Resort and Spa advised that the proposed changes would reduce the number of occupations that can be sponsored, make it harder for candidates to meet the new requirements, and create extra costs for business. As such, Daydream Island Resort and Spa urged the government to reconsider any changes that would impact on the viability of tourism and hospitality businesses in Northern Australia.
The Australian Hotels Association (NT Branch) advised that, while overseas workers have a role in supporting the tourism and hospitality industries, the first priority should be to ‘train and employ locals.’ The Darwin Convention Centre also stated that ‘relying on backpackers as the primary source of labour is unsustainable in the long term’, and that it ‘would like to see long term incentives to encourage people to live and work in the NT’.
Some inquiry participants observed that the tourism and hospitality industry was not generally viewed as a ‘serious career’ by young Australians. The TTNQ outlined how important changing this perception is to attracting young people to careers in tourism and that there was a need to:
… get to the youngest group of people and create a perception—that is in fact the reality—that tourism is not just a job; it really can be a career. There are some huge opportunities and really exciting roles for people now involved in the tourism industry ... if that can start at an early stage in a school curriculum, then it helps it permeate the entire region.
The Australian Regional Tourism Network (ARTN) drew attention to its Young Tourism Professional program, which provides training, mentoring and board experience annually to a ‘young tourism professional’ winner. The ARTN advocated for Australian Government support to expand and enhance this program.
Suggestions put forward to encourage young people to adopt careers in tourism included: highlighting role models, career opportunities and lifestyle benefits of working in tourism; the development of tourism work experience opportunities for school children; access to student loans for tourism programs; and the development of entrepreneurial programs and training packages.
The QTIC supported measures that would ‘assist in creating long-term careers in the tourism industry’, such as programs that upskill workers, the provision of funding for tourism educational programs and developing new industry specific curriculum in Northern Australia.
The CDU stated that the development of industry standards for training could help to ensure quality across the sector. In addition, the CDU advised that there was a need to educate tourism business owners about the skill sets they could use to maximise their tourism opportunities.
The OHDC stated that funding was needed to build tourism skills in regional areas, including through vocational education and training and apprenticeships. The need for customer service training was identified by the TCA and Ecotourism Australia.
While workers are in high demand in the peak tourism season, in the out-of-season some workers may have difficulty sourcing employment. As such, the CDU explained that there is a need for collaboration across industries to maintain employment of local people throughout the year. The CDU explained:
… there is a large resident population of Territorians that might be better engaged if we could line them up [to work in tourism] rather than relying on visiting European backpackers to fill the niche … we would need to strategically think about 'What do you do with people in the offseason?' If we can bring industry cohorts together so that during the dry season they are focused on tourism enterprises and in the offseason they are focused on some other enterprises then we are keeping employment linked to communities.
Tourism Employment Plans
In 2011, Tourism Ministers announced an intention to deliver Tourism Employment Plans (TEPs) in eight regions across Australia. The TEPs were three year ‘action-oriented’ plans to address labour and skill issues associated with the tourism and hospitality industries. Three of the TEPs were located in Northern Australia: Broome, WA, the Red Centre, NT (which began in 2013), and Tropical North Qld (which began in 2014).
The Northern RDA Alliance supported the TEPs in Northern Australia and recommended the initiative be expanded to every region in the north. The Northern RDA Alliance further suggested TEPs be linked to the Closing the Gap employment target for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The CDU recommended TEPs be developed for the Top End and Katherine regions, to encourage young people to adopt careers in tourism.
Tourism WA also supported the TEPs, but stated that ongoing funding was needed if employment outcomes were to be sustained. Tourism WA further advised that, for the Broome TEP, there were too many priority and actions to implement. Instead, Tourism WA suggested that ‘a more sustainable approach would have been to identify a smaller number (say five) key strategies and actions and progress these accordingly.’
A shortage of staff housing was raised as a concern in a number of tourism areas, including Yulara (NT), Coral Bay (WA) and the Dampier Peninsula (WA). The RAC stated that until workers’ accommodation and road infrastructure was improved in Coral Bay, it would not be able to invest in and develop the resort it owned in the area. Professional Helicopter Services and Ayers Rock Helicopters faced similar constraints and stated that the shortage of staff housing in Yulara has impacted on their ability to operate and expand their businesses.
Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia further advised that tourism businesses operating in remote regions often have to build their own staff housing, which it described as a ‘significant barrier to entry particularly for small operators.’
Parks Australia advised that increasing staff accommodation in regional or remote areas may need to be accompanied by upgrading basic services. Parks Australia stated that in the case of Uluru:
The big limitation on any growth in visitation or the addition of any new tourist experience is … the lack of staff housing. Related to that are services —electricity, water, sewer and those sorts of things. There is a limitation on the introduction of new staff housing because of the availability of services, so these are all interconnected.
Mobile coverage is patchy throughout Northern Australia and generally confined to towns, with some key tourism areas having no mobile phone coverage at all. Internet coverage is unavailable in some remote locations, and ‘slow and intermittent’ in major centres such as Alice Springs.
The Outback Qld Tourism Association explained that tourists ‘simply expect full mobile and data coverage throughout Australia.’ As well as wanting telecommunication access during their travels, tourists engage with tourism businesses online to research, book, and review their trip. Tourist businesses therefore need reliable internet to manage this usage, however, the Cook Shire Council advised that this is not always possible in Northern Australia. The Cook Shire Council stated:
Unreliable or non-existent internet access in remote areas is hampering tourism businesses to be able to improve and expand their business through online promotions and booking systems that so many visitors expect in a world of technology.
Tourism Top End agreed and stated that the NT has ‘too many’ mobile black spots, which is ‘inhibiting engagement and business growth’. Similar issues were raised in relation to Port Douglas, and the Douglas Shire Council stated that:
The biggest impediments causing lost opportunities are poor digital connectivity, a lack of reliable high speed internet with realistic data allowances and unreliable mobile and phone services … the internet is absolutely vital in helping small tourism businesses understand their markets better, extend their reach and serve their customers more effectively.
The TTNQ explained that poor digital connectivity in regional and remote locations also ‘amplifies risks to residents and visitors due to a lack of real time information on road closures and alternate routes.’ Having unreliable communications also ‘portrays a negative message’ that a tourist area may not be safe for visitors.
Parks Australia outlined the positive impact online services can have on revenue, through ‘improved distribution and ease of transaction’. At Kakadu National Park, moving to online park passes resulted in a 14 per cent increase in pass sales, and an additional $500 000 in revenue.
Telecommunications Priorities for Tourism
The Australian Government, in partnership with state and territory governments and telecommunication companies, is providing funding for the Mobile Black Spot Program, which aims to improve mobile phone coverage across regional and remote Australia. Telstra advised that:
Once work on Round 1 of the Mobile Black Spots Program is complete, Northern Australia will enjoy the benefits of an additional 39 base stations, seven of which are already on air. A further 21 sites are planned for installation across Northern Australia in Round 2.’
Telstra also stated that ‘over the last ten years, approximately 15 per cent of our investment in the mobile network has gone to provide services to the most remote two per cent of the population.’ Telstra further outlined a number of its projects aimed at improving telecommunications in Northern Australia, including:
‘The Regional Mobile Communications Project, completed in September 2014, saw 41 new base stations built in the Kimberly and Pilbara regions in Western Australia.’
‘[Telstra has] collaborated with the NT Government through a $30 million Infrastructure and Sustainability Co-Investment Agreement to improve the levels of digital inclusion … to remote Territory communities.’
‘[Telstra] completed the Aurukun to Weipa Optical Fibre project in December 2016. This project delivered 4G mobile services to Aurukun residents for the first time’.
Telstra recommended current policy and regulatory settings be maintained to ‘incentivise ongoing investment in telecommunications infrastructure, particularly mobile infrastructure, and particularly in regional, rural and remote areas.’
In addition to advocating for stable and fast mobile and data connectivity across Northern Australia overall, priority telecommunication projects put forward by inquiry participants included:
Full mobile and data coverage on major highways — the Douglas Shire Council referenced the need to improve emergency and mobile communications on the Captain Cook Highway, as it is considered ‘one of the most dangerous roads in the country.’
Continued focus on the NT under the Mobile Black Spot Program, particularly those locations without Telstra or Optus coverage;
NBN connectivity in major population centres;
Public Wi-Fi access at major tourism facilities and locations, including by subsidising tourism operators to be able to provide affordable or free internet access in tourism areas; and
Prioritising telecommunication upgrades in remote areas that are reliant on tourism including Christmas Island, Kakadu National Park and Cape York.
Facilities for Tourists
The City of Karratha stated that outside of major townships, visitor amenities in Northern WA are ‘almost non-existent’. The TTNQ advised that improving amenities such as toilets, camping grounds, rest areas, signage and waste management in remote areas can serve to boost the drive tourist market.
The Australian Caravan Club agreed and signalled a need for facilities to support self-contained Recreational Vehicle (RV) travellers, including dump points, access to amenities and camp grounds, and parking spaces that allow RV travellers to rest and explore a local area. The Australian Caravan Club also advised that planning for roads, rest areas and camping areas needed to be better coordinated to facilitate safe travelling distances.
The Australian Caravan Club further advised that ‘if there are facilities there [the user] should put a donation towards it’, to cover the cost of upkeep. In contrast, Big4 Holiday Parks of Australia cautioned that areas paid for by donation will ‘hold Northern Australia back for years and years and years because no one will invest.’
The CYSF stated that, as more roads are sealed and tourist numbers increase in the Cape York region, basic facilities will need to be upgraded. These include town services, water, sewerage, waste disposal and power. Similar issues were raised by Indigenous businesses at Cape Leveque, WA, who are planning for the sealing of Cape Leveque Road. Kooljaman commented that ‘we can see that [the sealing of the road] can bring local people in the business a lot of benefit, but we can also see that we have a huge management issue’.
The TPDD also outlined the need for upgraded facilities in north Qld and stated that ‘the outdated and inefficient power systems north of the Daintree are a serious impediment to operators in that region, as is the access to sustainable water and utilities through the Douglas Shire.’
Access to health services was also raised as an issue in tourism areas. Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia stated that health services in Yulara were lacking, and there is only one full time and one part time doctor, which can lead to delays in patients receiving treatment. The Port Douglas Shire Council also explained that adventure tourism operators, who are often located in remote areas and carry risk of injury, need to be better supported by ‘regional medical emergency services and health services.’
Recommended upgrades to facilities included:
Kakadu National Park: as road access to the Park improves, facilities including camping grounds and toilet facilities should be upgraded.
Cape York region: provision of amenities including toilets, rubbish removal and quality accommodation.
Monkey Mia Reserve, Shark Bay and Coral Bay: The RAC recommended the Australian Government provide funding for tourism infrastructure at the Monkey Mia reserve, tourism attractions and facilities throughout Shark Bay, and town infrastructure at Coral Bay, to support private investment.
Remote areas: Ninti One Limited recommended increasing tourism infrastructure in remote areas, including ‘building new camping grounds, designated dumping points, additional bush trails [and] hiking opportunities’. Ninti One Limited also recommended Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people be supported to develop tourist services and infrastructure.
East MacDonnell Ranges, NT: The TCA recommended an investment and grants program for ‘businesses, organisations and government departments wishing to install or upgrade new and existing facilities in the region’.
Visitor Information Centres
Broome Visitor Centre explained that visitor centres provide a critical service to the tourism industry by informing tourists of the range of activities available in an area. The City of Karratha in WA, which funds a Visitor Information Centre, stated that the Centres were originally established 'to provide visitors with information about the place', but are now ‘the “shop window” for the place and its local tourism industry.'
Recommendations put forward regarding Visitor Information Centres included:
Establishing an accredited Visitor Information Centre at the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park Cultural Centre or in the Voyages Resort Precinct: The TCA stated that information about areas outside Yulara is difficult to find in the Yulara precinct, and a Visitor Information Centre would have ‘positive effects on Northern Australian tourism’.
Parks Australia stated that the Cultural Centre in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park ‘needs to become a hub of visitor information’, and advised that an Asset Revitalisation Strategy is being developed.
Build the National Indigenous Cultural Centre and relocate the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre: Building the National Indigenous Cultural Centre was a 2016 election commitment of the NT government. The TCA stated that co-location of the Cultural Centre with the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre would ‘boost visitation for both facilities.’
Consistent provision of information across visitor centres in a region: Environs Kimberley recommended support be provided to the Broome, Derby, Fitzroy and Kununurra Visitor Centres, to enable them to provide consistent and complementary information of tourism offerings across the region, and to avoid duplication.
Additional sources of income for visitor centres: The East Kimberley Marketing Group commented that 'creating a visitor centre that is attached to venues that can provide it with steady income … would be of significant benefit to gateway visitor centres.'
Planning and Investment
A large proportion of government support for tourism in Northern Australia is focussed on marketing, while less is spent on destination planning and developing tourism products and supporting infrastructure. Increasing or reprioritising funding towards strategic planning and product development could increase the appeal of Northern Australia as a tourism destination, identify linkages and tourist routes across state and territory borders, and diversify tourism offerings across the north.
Further, improving tourism data collection in Northern Australia would ensure investment and planning decisions are made based on quality information and analysis.
Accessing Government Support
The Northern Australia Tourism Initiative (NATI) was implemented following the Australian Government’s White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. The NATI aimed to target the existing Entrepreneurs’ Programme and Australian Small Business Advisory Services to the needs of Northern Australian tourism businesses. This included lowering the financial threshold for Northern Australian businesses to access the Entrepreneurs’ Programme from $1.5 million to $750 000.
While the Committee acknowledges the potential for the NATI to stimulate tourism, the Committee found that further adjustments need to be made to better enable access for small Northern Australian businesses (with turnover of less than $750 000 per annum).
The Committee considers that currently, the Entrepreneurs’ Programme under the NATI is ineffective as the small businesses that would greatly benefit from its services are ineligible. As such, the Committee is of the view that amending the eligibility criteria to enable greater access for small business tourism operators, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, and businesses working in partnership (to provide a tourism package), would have a noticeable positive impact on Northern Australian tourism.
In addition, expanding the eligibility criteria for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme has the potential to stimulate more economic activity by making funding and assistance available to businesses with a smaller turnover. Further, it would serve to diversify the tourism products and experiences available into the future.
The Committee recognises the importance of grant funding in supporting the tourism industry in Northern Australia, and understands that the Tourism Demand-Driver Infrastructure programme is due to terminate on 30 June 2018. The Committee considers that this programme, or a similar form of federal grant funding, should continue, to enable a solid financial base to be established for small business. This would better assist and stimulate new and sustainable growth in existing tourism enterprises in Northern Australia.
Cost of Doing Business
The Committee is concerned about the range of regulatory hurdles facing tourism operators, and potential tourism investors, in Northern Australia. Having to gain approvals from numerous agencies across multiple jurisdictions can be expensive, time consuming, and usually causes investors to look elsewhere. Enhancing coordination between government agencies and identifying opportunities to simplify regulatory processes for businesses will ensure continued and increased investment in the north’s tourism industry.
The cost and availability of insurance was identified as an impediment to development in the Joint Select Committee on Northern Australia’s report Pivot North: Inquiry into the Development of Northern Australia (Pivot North). Since Pivot North was released, insurance costs in the north have risen even further, largely due to the Northern Territory Government’s decision to privatise the Territory Insurance Office. The continued unaffordability of insurance in the north (a situation which is only worsening) is a clear sign of failure in the insurance market. This signals a need for the Australian Government to intervene in this area of market failure.
Limited insurance coverage for businesses and residential properties located on the Indian Ocean Territories is also a significant impediment to the establishment of tourism businesses.
Implementing a ‘no-fault’ insurance system, similar to New Zealand, could stimulate the adventure tourism market. The Committee considers this approach is worthy of further investigation.
Pivot North stated that simplifying and harmonising land tenure arrangements in Northern Australia is critical to enabling development. Despite recent government action to streamline and improve regulation regarding land tenure in Northern Australia, the Committee heard that access to land continues to be an impediment to the development of the tourism industry. Continuing to improve regulation regarding land tenure arrangements could stimulate opportunities for traditional owners to establish cultural tourism ventures on their land.
Large areas in Northern Australia are also under pastoral leases, which restricts the type of activities that can be undertaken on the land. The Committee considers that reform to pastoral leases to allow for tourism activity would create tourism opportunities in the north.
The Committee also considers that state, territory and federal agencies responsible for the management of national parks should establish an agreed and streamlined approach to the consideration of tourism investment in national parks, to facilitate the development of ecotourism in national parks.
The predecessor Committee’s report entitled Scaling Up: Inquiry into Opportunities for Expanding Aquaculture in Northern Australia found that regulation of the Great Barrier Reef and aquaculture was impeding industry development. The Committee considers that this issue also applies to the tourism industry. In particular, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) permit system may be overly bureaucratic and inhibiting tourism investment. Further, bonds that businesses are required to pay to GBRMPA may be unnecessarily burdensome.
Attracting workers to the tourism industry in Northern Australia can be challenging. Ensuring that tourism operators have access to a reliable and committed workforce, particularly during the peak tourist season, was a priority for many tourism businesses. International students and backpackers are often employed by such businesses.
Training of workers is essential to the establishment and sustainability of a permanent, local tourism workforce. A potential barrier to establishing a local workforce may be that the tourism industry is not seen as long-term career option by young people.
Most tourists expect telecommunication access when they travel. Tourism businesses also require phone and internet access to market their products and compete with other tourist operators and destinations. Improving internet and phone coverage in many areas of Northern Australia would ensure tourists can document their travels online and enable tourism businesses to have a greater online presence, meet customer expectations and increase their market reach.
If visitor numbers are to increase across Northern Australia, basic infrastructure, amenities and services may need to be upgraded and improved to meet the heightened demand. In particular, facilities for drive tourists, such as waste services, clear signage, and rest stops, may stimulate the drive market in Northern Australia.
The Committee also acknowledges the important role of Visitor Information Centres, which have been found to improve the experience of tourists visiting Northern Australia, while also promoting tourism businesses in the region.
The Committee recommends that the Office of Northern Australia be funded (for no less than three years) to provide oversight of investment in, and development of, tourism in Northern Australia. As part of this role, the Office of Northern Australia should:
Conduct an audit of tourism attractions and destinations across Northern Australia, to identify opportunities for private investment and complementary public investment;
Provide strategic oversight and assist in coordinating the development of tourism destinations across the north, particularly through identifying opportunities that cross state and territory lines;
Support the development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tourism businesses and products; and
Work with all levels of government to identify opportunities to streamline and simplify regulation and approvals relating to the tourism industry.
The Committee recommends that Tourism Research Australia expand and improve its collection of data specifically related to tourism in Northern Australia and further develop and regularly publish a data set specific to Northern Australia.
The Committee recommends that the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science review, with the aim of amending, the eligibility criteria for the Entrepreneurs’ Programme under the Northern Australia Tourism Initiative to enable access for:
A greater majority of small to medium sized tourism businesses operating in Northern Australia, including small tourism businesses that are working in partnership and have developed a tourism package of significant value;
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses, particularly those that are well established in other sectors and are looking to expand into the tourism industry, in addition to those that are registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006; and
Organisations that contribute to the tourism industry but do not have an Australian Company Number (such as not-for-profits, incorporated associations and clubs).
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government expand the scope of the Northern Australia Tourism Initiative to include the Innovation Connections program.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to fund the Tourism Demand-Driver Infrastructure programme beyond mid‑2018.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government, in partnership with the state and territories, analyse the impact of high insurance costs on tourism investment in Northern Australia (particularly since the privatisation of the Territory Insurance Office) and implement measures to reduce insurance premiums; and
that insurance be made available for homes and businesses in the Indian Ocean Territories to stimulate business investment.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government conduct a review of its initiatives relating to land tenure and native title that were announced as part of the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, to determine whether they are producing concrete outcomes for traditional owners, how they could better support cultural tourism, and what further reform may be needed.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the states and territories to remove restrictions on pastoral leases to allow for longer tenure periods and a wider range of economic activities on pastoral land, including tourism, consistent with the rights of native title holders.
The Committee recommends that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority:
Implement measures to ensure allocated permits are being used regularly and if not, can be reallocated;
Implement an industry-led bonds scheme for smaller businesses and reduce the amount of capital required for bonds from larger businesses; and
Consider further ways to reduce waiting times for permits.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government improve mobile and data services across Northern Australia, particularly in areas with a high reliance on tourism.
The Committee recommends that the Australian Government work with the states and territories to improve tourist facilities and access in the following areas:
Monkey Mia Reserve, Shark Bay and Coral Bay;
East MacDonnell Ranges; and
Remote areas of Northern Australia, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that are working to expand their tourism offerings.