Australians took more than 3.5 million trips to Asia in the past year. Indonesia (especially Bali), Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Cambodia are the most popular destinations in the region. This is especially the case for young Australian travellers, who are attracted by low prices, the range of activities, and the easy-going lifestyle.
However, all international travel involves risks. You may have an accident or illness that lands you in hospital; you may even need to be repatriated to Australia. So it’s important to take out appropriate insurance for your trip.
Some Australians still naively believe their government will bail them out if they become sick or are injured and aren’t covered by travel insurance.
But while Australian diplomatic legations can provide details of local doctors and hospitals in an emergency, they won’t pay for medical or psychiatric services or medications.
Check the fine print
Some insurance claims run to hundreds of thousands of dollars, especially if the person requires extensive treatment in an intensive care unit.
Most reputable travel insurance companies offer substantial medical coverage.
They generally provide unlimited cover for any illness or accident experienced overseas. This includes covering the costs of treatment, hospitalisation, medication, surgery and, if necessary, evacuation or repatriation.
Some cheaper policies may require travellers to pay an excess on their premium for unlimited medical coverage.
Travellers are covered for tropical diseases such as Malaria, Zika and other conditions which can be contracted while travelling.
Many adventurous travellers engage in high risk activities but these are not necessarily covered by travel insurance policies. Travellers who plan to ski, bungee jump, mountaineer, abseil, trek or engage in other risky activities, should choose your insurance cover carefully.
This Choice guide is a good place to start. It explains traps and exclusions that may apply to insurance cover for loss, injury or illness.
Few travel insurance companies will cover policy-holders for treatment related to pre-existing medical conditions, including pregnancy or heart attacks at any age.
Travellers who need medical treatment from injuries incurred while intoxicated by drugs or alcohol may also have their claims rejected.
Australians who are injured in a motorbike accident abroad may find their claims rejected if they don’t have a motorbike licence in Australia and especially if they aren’t wearing a helmet (even if it isn’t required in the country they’re riding in).
Insurance companies’ definition of a senior can range from age 50 to over 80, but in many cases premiums will rise from age 75.
Some travel insurance companies have more stringent fitness requirements and require more medical documentation for senior travellers, especially those who have previously had a heart attack.
Reading the fine print of an insurance policy or obtaining expert advice is one of the least glamorous aspects of travel planning but it’s an essential part of minimising risk for your trip.
Every other year, retired couple Jorg and Jan journey some 5,000 kilometres in their campervan from Port Fairy in southeastern Australia to Broome in the far northwest for a change of lifestyle and scenery. There they catch up with other couples from across the nation, who often converge on the beach for communal dinners. Jorg and Jan’s break lasts several weeks.
They are two of tens of thousands of retired adults travelling independently across the continent at any given time in search of adventure, warmer weather and camaraderie after a lifetime of hard work. These part-time nomadic adventurers, or grey nomads, have recast the image of Australia’s ageing population. Rather than being inert and conservative, or in need of care, these older Australians are champions of a radical type of urbanism: dwellings are mobile, infrastructure is portable or pluggable, social networks are sprawled, and adherents are on the move daily or weekly.
Grey nomad is a term used to describe Australians over 55 years old who travel for an extended time – from weeks to months – and cover more than 300 kilometres in a day across semi-arid and coastal Australia. The term was popularised following the 1997 Australian documentary Grey Nomads, which captured the phenomenon of older travellers who made their homes wherever they parked.
What is the scale of grey nomadism?
Travellers, including grey nomads, contribute to a “roaming economy”: decentralised dwelling results in decentralised spending. The Western Australian government estimated in its Caravan and Camping Visitor Snapshot 2016 report that 1.54 million domestic visitors spent time in caravans or camping, contributing more than A$1 billion to the state economy.
According to the Campervan & Motorhome Club of Australia, RV drivers spend an average of $770 per week. And their value to a remote place extends beyond economic capital to human capital. Grey nomads often provide labour (such as gardening, house-sitting or their pre-retirement professional skills) in exchange for a place to park or for extra income.
But while many nomads go off-grid, carrying their solar panels and generators, others are just looking for free reserves to park in. Beyond the site and its amenities – such as power, water, showers or flushing toilets – qualities such as “authenticity” are important to nomads, as highlighted by Mandy Pickering. Sites should feel remote rather than urban.
Will future generations be as fortunate?
The rise of the grey nomad over the past half-century has been made possible through the ability of ageing Australians to fund this retirement lifestyle. They might sell their houses (some may simply benefit from having secure accommodation), withdraw their superannuation or receive government benefits. Nomadism is a reward after a lifetime entangled in an economic and social system that keeps the individual tied to a stable workplace and place to live.
For future generations, the outlook in terms of grey nomadism being a viable retirement lifestyle is not especially bright. Home ownership is sliding out of reach for many younger people. And many are enmeshed in the gig economy, meaning they are not receiving employer superannuation contributions.
Future generations may be so much in debt or living in such straitened circumstances that they cannot retire to a life of leisurely travel.
While grey nomadism might not be a sustainable model in the future, the lifestyle demonstrates how future generations of nomads – not necessarily grey – can live cheaply while populating regional centres for weeks or months, bringing economic and human capital to these remote places. These nomads will be able to work on their laptops in the public libraries, cafes, share houses and co-working spaces of country towns, accessing work remotely through cloud-based telecommunications.
They might not come in campervans but be dropped off in driverless vehicles; vacant campsites might become sites for small cabins. Or, as these nomads will be looking for temporary accommodation, spare rooms or entire houses might be made available. To find these dwellings, they might use apps that bring great efficiency to managing housing occupancy, enabling the “sharing” (renting) of unoccupied space for days, weeks or months.
Are regional towns ready to embrace these “emerging nomads” who are attracted by affordable living costs, network coverage, fast internet speeds, great weather, temporary housing options and unique regional identities, as the grey nomads were before them?
Grey nomads are recognised as a group that requires distributed infrastructures. They demonstrate a capacity for domesticity and urbanity without boundaries. The grey nomads are the precursor to a new generation that might not only want to travel, but need to in an economic environment that is not static or stable. And that will mean they can no longer afford to stay in one place.
This article was co-authored by Amelia Borg, a director of Sibling Architecture and a Masters of Business student at the University of Melbourne.
The Conversation is co-publishing articles with Future West (Australian Urbanism), produced by the University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts. These articles look towards the future of urbanism, taking Perth and Western Australia as its reference point, with the latest series focusing on the regions. You can read other articles here.
The Commonwealth government’s decision to wave through a controversial tourism development in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area was made in defiance of strident opposition from the expert statutory advisory body for the region’s management, it was revealed today.
In August, federal environment minister Melissa Price’s office decided the proposed luxury development on Halls Island did not need to be assessed under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
But according to documents tabled in Tasmania’s parliament by the Greens this morning, the state’s National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council had advised the opposite, as well as recommending that the proposal should not be approved at all in its current form. The council also argued “contentious projects” like this one should not be considered for the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area without “an agreed framework to guide assessment”.
This situation is not unique, and reveals a deeper problem with our national environmental laws. They may look strong on paper, but their strength can be eroded by bureaucratic discretion.
From conservation to commercialisation
Tasmania’s wilderness has long been ground zero for the struggle between conservation and commercialisation of our natural estate. In the 1980s, the Commonwealth government nominated the area for World Heritage listing to stop the state government building a hydroelectric dam on one of Australia’s last truly wild rivers.
The “locking up” of large parts of wilderness from industrial development has prompted deep social divisions. Nevertheless, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area (TWWHA) has since become part of Tasmania’s cultural and natural fabric. Yet this wilderness is now under renewed threat, as commercial interests seek to capitalise on its tourism potential.
World Heritage Areas must have an up-to-date management plan to ensure compliance with Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention. In 2016 the Commonwealth and Tasmanian governments revised the TWWHA management plan to reflect its “socio-economic” value, allowing a range of tourism uses that were banned under the previous 1999 plan.
The World Heritage Committee warned in 2015 that without “strict criteria for new tourism development”, there would be significant risks to the area’s “wilderness character and cultural attributes”. Australia accepted the recommendation but has still not meaningfully implemented strict criteria to assess and protect wilderness values, even as it accepts proposals for tourism developments.
Since both levels of government agreed to open up the TWHHA, a range of commercial interests have proposed tourism developments there. Expressions of interest for commercial developments are done behind closed doors, but it is clear that at least 30 commercial development proposals have been made for sites in the TWWHA, including projects involving permanent huts, lodges and camps, and some that would necessitate helicopter access.
The first of these proposals to be released for public comment and assessed under the 2016 management plan is a plan to build a “luxury standing camp and guided ecotourism experience” at Halls Island in Walls of Jerusalem National Park – a remote highland region of the TWWHA.
The National Parks and Wildlife Advisory Council (NPWAC) is a statutory body of independent experts, with responsibility to advise on the management of the TWHHA in line with Australia’s national and international World Heritage commitments. The documents released today show that on July 13 2018, the NPWAC argued strongly against the proposal being allowed to proceed, stating that it “does not support this project progressing at this time”.
It cited a range of objections, including the fact that the development would effectively grant “exclusive private commercial use” of an area in the TWWHA, and that the opening up of airspace to helicopters would set an unwelcome precedent. It also described the development’s planned “standing camp” as a “pretence” because it would involve the construction of permanent buildings for year-round use. And it pointed to the proposal’s failure to address adequately the risk to threatened species and the fire-sensitive nature of the property.
Like the World Heritage Committee, NPWAC argued that the range of projects currently proposed for the TWWHA “should not be considered until there is an agreed framework to guide assessment”. Yet despite this, the minister’s delegate allowed the proposal to proceed without further assessment under the EPBC Act.
Commonwealth government’s decision
On August 31, 2018, the delegate of the minister decided that the referred action “is not a controlled action”, which means that it will not be subject to any further assessment, or even attention, by the Commonwealth government. No other reasons were given to reject the NPWAC’s recommendations, or the submissions from 78 individuals (including expert scientists) and 808 campaign submissions opposing the development.
Government ministers are not bound to act on expert advice. But they do have a duty to take it into account in a meaningful way. That is especially the case when expert advice is so clear, and supported by a range of relevant, independent and compelling public submissions from scientists and specialist groups.
In the case of Halls Island, these factors should have tipped the balance towards undertaking a proper, legal assessment of the proposal and its likely impacts.
In a response to The Conversation, Price said her department had considered a range of advice and concluded that the proposed development is “not likely to have significant impacts on any nationally protected environmental matters, including the value of the World Heritage Area”.
The Commonwealth is supposed to provide a check and balance on states’ self-interest in exploiting areas of outstanding universal value. But with another 29 development proposals on the list, our fear is that Tasmania’s World Heritage “wilderness” will become a lot less wild in the future.
Shark ecotourism can change people’s attitudes about sharks and make them more likely to support conservation projects – even after allowing for the fact that ecotourists are more likely to be environmentally minded in the first place.
We looked at participants’ knowledge of and attitudes towards sharks, and their intention to engage with shark conservation projects before and after the tour. We then compared these with the knowledge, attitudes, and conservation intentions of 488 members of the public who had not taken part in shark ecotourism.
Even before taking part in the shark ecotourism program, participants were generally more environmentally minded, more knowledgeable about sharks, and had more positive attitudes towards sharks than the general public.
For example, 71% of participants had positive attitudes towards sharks before the tour, compared with only 45% of the general public. To a certain extent, therefore, the shark ecotourism program was attracting people who were already “converted” to environmentalism.
But, crucially, we also found that after the ecotourism program, participants had significantly more knowledge of the ecological role of sharks and a more favourable attitude towards them. There was a 39% increase in knowledge along our measured scale, and 97% of participants who held negative attitudes ended up changing their mind about sharks as a result of the tour.
Ultimately, the program had a significantly positive effect on people’s intentions to engage in shark conservation behaviour, despite them already being more environmentally minded than the general public. In other words, these programs are not just “preaching to the converted” – they really do improve people’s engagement with conservation.
Sharks’ PR problem
Sharks are crucial to our marine ecosystems, yet many shark populations are in decline as a result of fishing (particularly for shark fin soup), fisheries bycatch, habitat destruction, and climate change.
To survive, sharks need a coordinated global conservation effort. And for that they need people to speak up for them.
Shark ecotourism provides an opportunity to learn about sharks’ role in ocean ecosystems, and to view and interact with them in their natural environment. Our research suggests it offers a way to counteract misconceptions and build support for shark conservation.
Not all programs marketed as shark ecotourism are equal, however. There are legitimate concerns about some forms of shark tourism, with important questions about animal welfare, ecological impacts, and public safety (particularly where chum or bait is used to attract sharks).
The conservation benefits of shark ecotourism are thus most likely to be realised when it is conducted responsibly, with trained staff, in areas that don’t conflict with other ocean uses.
Hopefully, our findings will encourage the development of responsible, environmentally friendly and educational shark ecotourism programs with specific conservation goals, which will allow people to engage with sharks in a positive way. In turn, that could help to build political and social pressure to conserve sharks.
Recently, some of Europe’s most-visited cities have become surprisingly inhospitable to tourists. Barcelona residents have been openly hostile to visitors and officials are now cracking down on Airbnb rentals. Venice has been overrun with daytrippers and recently instituted tourist-only diversion routes. Dubrovnik has put a cap on the number of cruise ship passengers that can enter the city at any one time.
These destinations are suffering from what people in the travel industry call “overtourism.” The numbers speak for themselves. Europe was the most frequently visited region in the world in 2016, accounting for close to half of the 1.24 billion international tourist arrivals. Spain, a nation of 46.5 million people, welcomed a remarkable 75.3 million visitors in 2016. Croatia, population 4.2 million, saw more than triple the number of tourist arrivals.
Australia hasn’t yet experienced visitor numbers quite this large – there were just 8.24 million tourist arrivals in 2016 – but overtourism is becoming a concern here, as well.
What exactly is overtourism?
The awkward term overtourism describes a situation in which a tourism destination exceeds its carrying capacity – in physical and/or psychological terms. It results in a deterioration of the tourism experience for either visitors or locals, or both. If allowed to continue unchecked, overtourism can lead to serious consequences for popular destinations.
The causes of overtourism vary according to the destination. Recently, the disruptive agents of the sharing economy, like Airbnb, have been blamed for bringing more tourists into the heart of communities instead of just tourist sites. Cheap travel and package holidays are enabling more people to take short city breaks and cruises, particularly in Europe. Social media also plays a role in popularising places like Myanmar, which go from being off-the-grid to “must-see” destinations overnight.
The shifting focus of governmental tourism agencies play a role in overtourism, as well. Many agencies are now almost exclusively marketing-focused and their singular goal is promoting growth. For instance, Tourism Australia’s “Tourism 2020” strategy is clearly growth-focused. Its goal is stated simply on the website – to achieve more than AU$115 billion in overnight spending by 2020 (up from AU$70 billion in 2009).
Sustainable tourism strategies, once heavily promoted in the 1990s and early 2000s, no longer seem to be as high a priority.
Is Australia really in danger of overtourism?
Australian tourism sites like Kangaroo Island aren’t seeing visitor numbers anywhere close to Venice and Barcelona just yet. However, poor tourism policies may still lead to a form of overtourism if locals perceive their quality of life is being damaged by tourists.
For instance, the 2011 Kangaroo Island Pro-Surf and Music Festival faced considerable community opposition for its proposal to bring 5,000 visitors to the small hamlet of Vivonne Bay (population 400). Recently published research examining the policy process indicated it was a push by tourism authorities to boost tourism on the island that led to the event being imposed on the community. The backlash was so severe, organisers abandoned plans to host the event again in subsequent years.
Tasmania, too, has experienced a tourist backlash in recent years. Most recently, thousands came out to protest a proposed cable car for Mount Wellington near Hobart. With claims by critics that the cable car would draw upwards of 1 million tourists per year, one can readily see the seeds for overtourism.
Another site that could be in danger is the Great Barrier Reef. Agricultural run-off, climate change and a crown-of-thorns starfish outbreak are currently posing grave threats to the reef, which could spark a phenomenon known as “last-chance tourism”, – a rush to experience a place before it’s gone for good.
What can be done?
Most experts agree government regulations are key to addressing the threats from overtourism. Many cities, for instance, are following Barcelona’s lead to tighten restrictions on Airbnb. The Thai government is closing popular Maya Beach on Phi Phi Island for four months every year to allow the sea life to recover. Creatively, Copenhagen is promoting a tourism policy based on “localhood”:
A long-term vision that supports the inclusive co-creation of our future destination. A future destination where human relations are the focal point. Where locals and visitors not only co-exist, but interact around shared experiences of localhood. Where our global competitiveness is underpinned by our very own localhood. And where tourism growth is co-created responsibly across industries and geographies, between new and existing stakeholders, with localhood as our shared identity and common starting point.
And in New Zealand, the tourism board is actively promoting tourism visits outside of peak season. This is a good example of how government agencies can use “demarketing” strategies, or deflecting interest in places, to address rising tensions over tourism. Similarly, Majorca’s authorities have tried to rebrand it as a winter destination in an effort to reduce overcrowding in the peak season.
With its “Tourism 2020” strategy, Australia is focused instead on growing its visitor numbers. The national and local tourism bodies should take a more sustainable and holistic approach to their tourism planning to reflect the values and desires of local communities. That will ensure visitor numbers remain in check and tourism remains an enjoyable experience – for tourists and residents alike.
The carbon footprint of tourism is about four times larger than previously thought, according to a world-first study published today in Nature Climate Change.
Researchers from the University of Sydney, University of Queensland and National Cheng Kung University – including ourselves – worked together to assess the entire supply chain of tourism. This includes transportation, accommodation, food and beverages, souvenirs, clothing, cosmetics and other goods.
Put together, global tourism produces about 8% of global greenhouse gas emissions, much more than previous estimates.
To determine the true emissions produced by tourism, we scanned over a billion supply chains of a range of commodities consumed by tourists. By combining a detailed international trade database with accounts tracking what goods and services tourists bought, we identified carbon flows between 160 countries from 2009 to 2013.
Our results show that tourism-related emissions increased by around 15% over that period, from 3.9 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon-dioxide equivalent (CO₂-e) to 4.5Gt. This rise primarily came from tourist spending on transport, shopping and food.
We estimate that our growing appetite for travel and a business-as-usual scenario would increase carbon emissions from global tourism to about 6.5Gt by 2025. This increase is largely driven by rising incomes, making tourism highly income-elastic and carbon-intensive.
Whose responsibility is it?
In the study, we compared two perspectives for allocating responsibility for these emissions: residence-based accounting and destination-based accounting. The former perspective allocates emissions to the country of residence of tourists, the latter to the country of destination. Put simply, are tourism-related carbon emissions the responsibility of travellers or tourist destinations?
If responsibility lies with the travellers, then we should identify the countries that send the most tourists out into the world, and find ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their travel.
On the other hand, destination-based accounting can offer insights into tourism spots (like popular islands) that would benefit most from technology improvements and regulations for reducing the carbon footprint of tourism.
Tracking emissions under destination-based accounting over a specific period could help researchers and policymakers to answer questions about the success of incentive schemes and regulations, and to assess the speed of decarbonisation of tourism-related sectors.
So how do countries rank under the two accounting perspectives? The United States is responsible for the majority of tourism-related emissions under both perspectives – many people travel both from and to the US – followed by China, Germany and India.
But on a per-capita basis, the situation looks rather different. Small island destinations have the highest per-capita destination-based footprints. Maldives tops the list – 95% of the island’s tourism-related emissions come from international visitors.
Tourists are responsible for 30-80% of the national emissions of island economies. These findings bring up the question of the impact of tourism on small island states.
Small island states typically do not have the capacity to embrace technology improvements due to their small economies of scale and isolated locations.
Can we lend a helping hand? Directing financial and technical support to these islands could potentially help with efforts to decarbonise their infrastructure. This support would be a reflection of the share of consumer responsibility, especially from developed nations that are “net travellers”.
Ultimately real change will come from implementing regulations and incentives together to encourage low-carbon operations. At a personal level, though, it’s worth looking at the carbon-cost of your flights, choosing to offset your emissions where possible and supporting tourism companies that aim to operate sustainably.
Technology has changed the way we travel. Smartphones, travellers’ comments and photos, search engines and algorithms can all inspire and empower us to plan complex journeys all over the globe within minutes.
Planning and booking tourism has always had an element of risk. One has to commit upfront – there is no sample to try before you buy, and no return policy. It is not surprising that people increasingly rely on social media content and networks to identify, evaluate and select their preferred tourism destination and suppliers.
But even if the final destination is beautiful, many social media users will now ask themselves a set of new questions. Is it the trendy and fashionable place that you want to be “seen” travelling? It this a place won’t be embarrassed to share this with your peers and followers online?
In TripAdvisor we trust
Increasingly, TripAdvisor is the starting point for information (photos, videos, comments, blogs) for choosing a travel destination, particularly among millennials.
Travel inspired by social media has gained popularity because it saves time and reduces the purchase risk of travellers when searching for travel information and planning their trip.
The universal penetration of smartphones has created the “always switched-on” tourists, who use their devices to share tourism experiences on the spot and in real time. Identifying, searching and sharing tourism experiences and information have been identified as the two top major ways in which social media has transformed tourism.
For many people, mobile phones have become their external brain when on the road. However, in some cases, continuous mobile phone use on holidays has led to tourists anthropomorphising their devices, by attributing them human characteristics and perceiving them as personal travel companions.
‘Selfie gaze’ tourists
These so-called “selfie-gaze” tourists see and experience the destination largely through their cameras and the comments and feedback they receive on their posts.
In this sense, their satisfaction does not depend on the quality of the destination and experience, but on how well they manage impressions and attract “likes” and positive comments.
The perception that those taking the selfie are being widely viewed has also changed the way people consume places and what they see and how they behave at a destination. This is because online profiles and posts have to be carefully managed by tourists to highlight positive attributes, socially desirous experiences and present a more idealised self.
“Selfie-gaze” tourists do not only participate in touristic photography – they also artificially create it. One example of this is the infamous “duck-face” photo that so frequently appears in social media feeds.
Gone are the days that destinations had control of their image-making and communication. Once used as a travel memory, social media has converted personal photography to a significant source of travel inspiration and the most popular way of online communication, self-expression and identity formation.
Instagram hosts more than 220 million photographs hashtagged with #selfie and more than 330 million hashtagged with #me. People go to such trouble to get the perfect picture of themselves — creating at least a moment that is artificial – in their quest for an image of authenticity.
EU countries have banned selfies at major landmarks such as Eiffel Tower, while attractions and museums ban the use of selfie sticks for the physical protection of other tourists.
In the quest of self-promotion and the search of an idealised tourism experience, my research shows how tourists share fake and unrealistic information. This could include “checking-in” to places they haven’t been or pretending to be happy despite staying in terrible conditions.
Although this deviant online behaviour biases and dilutes others in their travel decisions, tourists continue doing it believing it doesn’t harm anyone. But it can distort the real travel experience and give people false expectations about destinations.
Tourism marketers spend more and more of their marketing budget on “influencer marketing”, a strategy referring to the use of celebrities and online opinion leaders to post favourable content for a brand.
The influencer market has been estimated as having a value of US$10 to US$15 billion in 2017.
More than one-third of marketers now spend more than US$500,000 a year on it, and influencer posts on Instagram alone are worth US$255 million a month. Another recent survey of marketers found that almost half (48%) anticipate their influencer marketing budgets will rise in 2017.
Research shows that it is not age, but the dark triad of personality traits – narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy – that push people to pursue selfie glory regardless of the result.
Selfie-gaze tourism also lead to conspicuous consumption in which tourists travel to destinations and perform experiences in front of the camera to display economic power and attain or maintain social status.
Deeper tourism education needed
Obviously, it’s not useful to rail against basic human needs or deny the functional benefits of technology. But what we need instead is a serious education of tourists and citizens for a mindful use of social media before and while travelling.
This is an area of research that urgently needs to be explored to ensure technology use does not negatively influence travellers’ psychological, mental, emotional or even physical wellbeing.
This article has been amended since its original publication. Several references have been changed to include more accurate references and links. Some phrasing has also been changed to distinguish it more clearly from that of the reference it draws on.
Big cities and places with internationally renowned attractions have long been the most popular tourist destinations. Even today, Chinese tour companies in Australia, for instance, mostly focus on the biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane – and landmarks like Uluru. But modern tourism is starting to take a slightly different path, regional travel, which creates economic benefits for towns and also leaves tourists with a better impression of a country.
Unpublished research undertaken by one of us (Elizabeth Turenko) while working as a tour leader in Ukraine in 2013-2014 confirmed this. Feedback from guests travelling on a group tour to Europe showed 80% preferred to visit “well-known” large cities, mostly capitals, when it came to choosing a tour.
Most of the time, though, these tourists were disappointed because the cities did not live up to their expectations. But, the study revealed, 75% of tourists enjoyed travelling to smaller towns when they did decide to visit them as part of a tour.
Big cities are losing their local flavour
There is no doubt the major cities are attractive and are still perceived as the essence of a country for many tourists. Yet the question remains: are these cities actually showing the “real country”? At a time of globalisation and global cities, to what extent do the larger cities still give tourists “the taste” of local culture.
In the past five years tourism has seen some big changes. Large numbers of travellers have lost interest in cookie-cutter restaurants, lodging and attractions. Instead, they want local food, local attractions and connection to the lifestyles of local people.
The best places to experience that are often small local towns and villages. Here life hasn’t yet been adapted to tourist needs and the authenticity feels right.
Turenko also investigated the tourists’ preferences during a group bus tour in Europe. The main program involved a one-day visit to Amsterdam and a second day on which tourists could spend their free time in Amsterdam or go on a group trip to Volendam, a small town 20km away. The 90% of the group who opted for the town visit were very satisfied with their decision.
So, was there anything special about Volendam? Not really.
Much like many small towns in the Netherlands, Volendam has limited tourist attractions, these being mostly its built heritage (wooden buildings) and cultural assets (a museum and a cheese factory). When surveyed, the visitors explained they enjoyed the glimpse into the local culture and the routine life of the locals.
The tourists appreciated going to local shops and eating at local restaurants far away from standardised brands and international franchises. They felt they could feel the “soul” of the country.
At the time of this 2014 survey, cities and holidays at the coast were the main attractions for visitors to the Netherlands (36% and 22%, respectively). But interest in the countryside and touring the Netherlands (12% and 10%, respectively) has been increasing.
Finding a local tourism niche
Let’s be frank: smaller towns and villages have not been dormant, and many have jumped at the opportunities offered by tourism. We all have heard about farm holidays, horse riding, wine tasting tours, nature guided walks and so on.
Building on this, innovative regional tourism practices have been recognised worldwide for displaying a breadth of approaches and end products. A good example in Ireland is Ballyhoura, “a world where the little pleasures of sharing everyday things with the locals in Ballyhoura – talking with them, walking with them and sharing a joke – is possibly the greatest attraction of them all!”
Despite a lack of outstanding tourism resources, the area became a successful tourism destination thanks to a very personalised marketing method. Visitors even received a welcoming letter. The focus on “promoting a genuine rural experience and warm welcome” creates an incentive for more local start-up enterprises and for a co-operative, closing-the-loop process of quality control.
Yet all attempts have not been met with success. Many smaller towns are slowly disappearing in Australia. Main streets with closed shops and abandoned business are not uncommon.
The combination of lack of employment and population ageing and loss is a chicken-and-egg situation. The various levels of government are acutely aware of this, and tourism offers a possible way out of the dilemma facing these towns. Several recent initiatives have shown how tourism can contribute to the development of these areas when innovation, expertise and community participation are brought together.
Charleville in far west Queensland offers a great example of this, with the outback town working on making the most of its clear nighttime skies, far from the city lights. An extension to the Cosmos Centre and Observatory, funded by state and local governments, has boosted visitor numbers in just one year. The extension displays fun and serious facts about planets and life in space, enhanced by interactive media.
For the town of fewer than 4,000 people, the growth in tourism is like a nice spring rain after a long dry season. It’s another reminder of why rural tourism can be “the perfect small town business idea”.
Closing Uluru to climbers empowers Indigenous people to teach visitors about their culture on their own terms, which is more sustainable for tourism in the long run.
Uluru is a drawcard for international and domestic tourists, and is visited by over 250,000 people per year. A substantial number of these choose to climb the rock. On busy days, the number can be in the hundreds. This is despite being asked by the traditional owners, the Anangu people, to respect their wishes, culture and law and not climb Uluru.
The Anangu people actually offer visitors a range of eco-cultural tourism activities that focus on sharing Indigenous culture, knowledge and traditions, which don’t involve planting feet on a sacred place. These activities including nature walks, painting workshops, bush yarns and bush food experiences.
This decision to close the rock to climbers comes after many years of conceding rights back to the Anangu, and is possibly one of the few times where Indigenous values have truly been prioritised over other interests.
Giving power back to Uluru’s traditional owners
The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, declared in 1950, was handed back to the Anangu on October 26, 1985. While the agreement required the park to be leased to the Australian Parks and Wildlife Services under a co-management arrangement, the handover was a symbolic high point for land rights.
In practice, however, aspects of the park’s operations were contrary to the traditional owners’ approach to conservation and management. For instance, park management models stated the need to place:
… emphasis on developing acceptable patterns of use of the physical environment and not on recognition of social and spiritual values of land to Indigenous people.
In 2010, the park’s management plan proposed to close the rock if the proportion of visitors who wished to climb Uluru was below 20%. An independent analysis of track counter data and visitor statistics undertaken by the Griffith Institute for Tourism over a four year period revealed that in almost all circumstances (and even with allowance for track counter inaccuracy) the proportion was under 20%.
Finally on November 1, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board of Management, consisting of eight traditional owners and four government officials, voted unanimously to close Uluru (Ayers Rock) to climbers. The local tourism industry supported the decision.
But for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, getting involved in the tourism industry comes with its own set of problems. They have been tasked with juggling their heritage, customs, culture and traditions with government initiatives that prioritise economic over socio-cultural development. For example, as Quandamooka Dreaming “targets big dollars from tourism” in SE Queensland, the traditional owners are successfully balancing their socio-economic aspirations with cultural lores by determining that some sacred sites will remain accessible only to elders and initiated Indigenous Quandamooka people. But other sites will be open to eco-tourists.
Given the considerable pressure tourism places on local resources and places, the involvement of local communities and different groups within them is now considered critical for achieving sustainable tourism.
A recent report concludes that participation and empowerment of local communities are success factors to managing tourism growth. It’s the local community that looks after the destination, and it can make or break a tourist’s experience. The report finds developing tourism without input from the local people has often led to conflict.
Closing Uluru for climbing should be seen as a shining example of sustainable tourism being a vehicle for the preservation, maintenance and ongoing development of culture, traditions and knowledge.
And when reconciliation principles are practised not preached, traditional custodians of the land are afforded due respect. This then leads them to share their 60,000 year old knowledge of the management of the land we are privileged to utilise as tourism destinations.