While I’ve been to many iconic parts of Australia that I’m still in love with, there are others I’m embarrassed to admit I haven’t yet seen.
In fact, with the new wheels I bought three months ago, I’m itching to drive into the Wide Brown. Not the big lap. Couldn’t think of anything worse than living in a tent or a motel for months. Just large bite-size chunks.
When I hitch-hiked to Darwin on my way to East Timor in the 1970s, half the Stuart Highway in the north of South Australia was a flooded dirt track; the other half was the wreckage of the single-lane bitumen road the Americans built in World War II. So bone-jarringly romantic.
The four-wheel-drives that half of suburban Australia now own, just in case the family decides to escape to Kakadu, are redundant. The Stuart Highway 2011 is a pool table of flat, smooth tarmac, which threatens only to put you to sleep at the wheel. You can reach most of Kakadu most of the year in any old sedan.
So my first trip will be a toss-up between the sunset cruise at Yellow Water, near Kakadu’s Cooinda settlement, en route to one of my old stamping grounds, Darwin; or a couple of spring or autumn weeks scouting the coast from Ceduna to Esperance in Western Australia – my first visit to that Southern Ocean coastal strip.
For even wanting to do that, I am way outside the consumer targeting of Tourism Australia, which wants to put me into an expensive resort on the east coast as part of its new domestic tourism campaign, which was launched on Friday.
That’s because, while the number of overnight trips being taken by Australians in the year to June rose four per cent, the overall value of domestic tourism fell 0.7 per cent. There’s a slight rise in total trips being taken but the total number of visitor nights is static compared with last year and is down around 10 per cent over the past decade.
The 68.9 million overnight trips we took in 2010-11 contributed just 260 total visitor nights – an average of fewer than four nights per trip. That is the story of the first decade of this century. Even though we have nominally low unemployment, we take only short breaks for holidays, the motivation of the tourism industry’s most recent 'No Leave No Life' campaign, which was designed to drag workers away from their desks more often for some R ’n’ R. But longer holidays are a thing of the past for most.
The Tourism Australia campaign launched on Friday invites Australians to upload their favourite home-grown experience on the campaign website and nominate a dream team of five people that they would like to share the experience with.
Participants will be eligible to win one of 16 holidays, worth a total $300,000.
In the meantime, consumers are being urged to do the right thing and holiday at home.
Will you spend your holiday dollars at home in the coming year instead of escaping overseas? What is your feedback for Tourism Australia?