What's so good about Australia?

Australia: we have a problem. It's the tourists – they're just not coming here anymore.

As discussed in recent weeks, while the strong Aussie dollar has made overseas travel more attractive for those of us living here, it has also made visiting our fair shores far less attractive for foreign tourists.

Where once Australia was seen as a laid-back and relatively cheap place to come for a holiday, it's now struggling under the apprehension that it's anything but.

So what do we do? Last time I wrote about this, I ended by saying that the trick for Australia is to figure out the things we offer that no one else can.

That's the idea behind Tourism Australia's campaign slogan, "There's nothing like Australia". Because while a lot of the things we offer can also be found overseas, there are unique attractions we can pinpoint.

The trouble for Australians is that the things that make as unique are also the things that make us cringe. Cuddly koalas, bouncing kangaroos, clichéd shots of Uluru at sunset... C'mon, there's much more to us than that!

And that may be true, but no one cares. There's a great quote from the late Steve Irwin that summed this up: "People are not going to travel thousands of miles to just get a café latte in Australia," Irwin said, "they are going to come here to see our unique wildlife like our kangaroos, wombats, platypuses and our beaches and rainforests. This is the only place on earth they can see these things in their natural environment."

That's the truth. Unfortunately, everyone in Australia is so determined to be seen as sophisticated and all grown up on the world stage that we'd prefer to ignore this and spruik our cafes or our arts scene or our vineyards.

But that's not why people come to Australia.

Pretend you're English, and you're tossing up where to go for your next holiday.

If you're into cafes and great casual dining, you'll go to Italy, not Australia. If you're into art you'll go to Paris, not Sydney. If you're into cool laneway bars you'll go to Barcelona, not Melbourne. If you like wine you'll go to Bordeaux, not the Barossa. If you like beaches you'll go to Thailand, not Byron Bay.

So what have we got? For starters, we can pretty much forget about promoting any of our cities, except for Sydney.

Melbourne's a fantastic place, I love it, but its main appeal is that it's kinda like a European city. So as a European tourist, or even an American, that's not much of a drawcard. Wow, it's, um... kinda like home. Just not as good.

And you can't tell me any resident of Shanghai or Seoul or Tokyo is coming to Australia to experience life in a city.

Canberra is mildly interesting, but not worth a long-haul flight to visit, and the other capitals are fun for a day or two, but they're not destinations in their own right.

Sydney does have those old clichés though – the bridge, the Opera House, the Manly Ferry – which may seem a bit lame to us, but they're what people think about when they picture Australia. You can't get that anywhere else.

Australia's beaches alone won't cut it. There are beautiful beaches in Mexico, in Tahiti, in the Bahamas, in Israel. What they don't have, though, is 2600km of Barrier Reef hemming those beaches in. They don't have whale sharks regularly swimming through them.

No other country has Kakadu or the Kimberley or the Olgas. There's natural beauty all around the world, but ours is unique to this continent.

Australia is also a great country for a road trip – the distances might be huge, but if you really like getting in the car and getting away from it all, then size matters.

There are things we need to fix, of course, to attract tourists, like the high price of services and their relatively low quality. Plus our airports could do a better job of making visitors feel welcome – in Tahiti recently I was greeted at the airport by a bunch of huge guys playing ukuleles; in Sydney last time I was greeted by uniformed customs staff and sniffer dogs.

But when it comes to promoting what makes Australia worth visiting, what makes it unique, we have forget the cafes and the arts scenes and the city life, and go for the lame old clichés: koalas, kangaroos and Uluru. That's what makes us us.

How would you promote Australia to the rest of the world? What have we got that no one else can offer?

Hope you're enjoying the Backpacker blog – there will be a new one published every Tuesday and Wednesday on the Fairfax Media websites. To contact me with any topic suggestions or personal abuse, visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or email me at bengroundwater@gmail.com.