For Australian tourism providers, it must be the most frustrating thing in the world.
Here they are with a first-class tourism product, with destination after destination that is sought out by the rest of the world, attraction after attraction that overseas visitors spend their life savings on travelling here to experience. And now, as these providers struggle under international border closures and domestic restrictions, they have the chance to showcase everything they have to offer to a local audience desperate to travel.
And yet that local audience just shrugs its shoulders and says, "Yeah, nah."
Several surveys released recently show that younger Australians, in the 20- to 35-year-old age bracket, are reluctant to travel in their own country even with the current ban on international movement. Some cite the expense of travel in Australia; others cite the difficulty in getting around, particularly if you don't own a car; and others still blame the lack of anything interesting to do.
All of which must make local tourism providers beat their heads against the nearest wall in frustration. Nothing to do? NOTHING TO DO? How about getting yourself acquainted with the oldest living culture in the world? How about checking out the world's largest single structure made by living organisms? How about lying on the beach with the whitest sand on Earth? Or how about just going to Cairns and getting drunk with backpackers for a week or two?
This is the challenge the industry in Australia faces – or rather, the next challenge, once we get past all of these restrictions and border closures. Once Australians can freely travel around the country again, particularly young Australians, how do you get them to actually do that? How do you get them to commit their savings to a holiday here instead of putting it away for a future holiday over there?
The cost thing is a difficult one, though it's not as black and white as it may appear. Yes, people of all ages often baulk at the expenses involved with a holiday in Australia, and it's certainly cheaper in south-east Asia, even when you factor in the cost of flights (although the days of dirt-cheap airfares may be over post-pandemic.)
However, destinations such as those in Western Europe, and increasingly in the USA, are just as expensive as Australia and far more prohibitive to get to, which means Australians aren't afraid to throw down a bit of cash if they think they're getting value for money.
And therein lies the problem. Plenty of younger Australians don't feel they're getting value for money here. They don't feel there's enough excitement to a trip around Australia to justify the cost. There's not enough reward. My guess, too, is that young travellers in particular don't feel that a domestic holiday has the same gravitas as a trip to Europe or the US. It doesn't look as good on the socials. It doesn't sound as impressive to your friends.
There's also, clearly, a problem with marketing, with letting young people know what there is to do in this country that might be as fun and as wild and as interesting and as affordable as it is in south-east Asia or some other continent. Domestic advertising campaigns tend to focus on wineries and luxury lodges rather than, say, island-based youth hostels or budget-friendly road trips.
Millennials travel overseas for a wide variety of reasons, of course, but many of them involve a sense of escape, of adventure, of cultural discovery, and of rite-of-passage thrills. The trick for Australian tourism providers currently bashing their heads against walls is to show that all of those things can be had right here as well, and at a reasonable price. This is a genuine backpacker destination, after all – someone just needs to tell the local crowd.
A road trip around Australia can be as exciting and fulfilling as a road trip through the USA if you choose the right destinations and surrender yourself to enjoying the culture of the Outback. A backpacker crawl through the islands and beaches of the Whitsundays can be just as much fun as a stay in Bali or Thailand, particularly if you face the reality that you're going to be surrounded by other Australians whichever option you choose.
If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it's surely that travel can't be taken for granted, and that you shouldn't put off for some far-off retirement what you could get done today. That's a sentiment for the Australian tourism industry to capitalise on.
If young people have always wanted to see the Red Centre then they should be encouraged to go and see the Red Centre. Now (or as soon as borders are opened). Look for a special on airfares or join a budget tour. Take a tent and camp, or stay in budget cabins.
Similarly, if they've always wanted to do the "Big Lap", then now is the time to pack the tent and get behind the wheel and make it happen. If they've planned to swim with whale sharks or climb Kosciuszko or camp on Fraser Island or hike the Three Capes Track or sail the Whitsundays or visit the Big Bogan – then this is the time to do it.
For those of us who have focused on overseas destinations for most of our lives – and I put myself in that group – it's all about re-framing Australia in our minds, shying away from the old stereotypes.
You might begin to say that Australia has no history, but come on, we have more history than anyone. You might say Australia lacks culture, but what we have, in fact, is hundreds of cultures. You might say Australia is too expensive but you're thinking about the old world, pre-COVID. Who knows what overseas travel costs will be like for the next few years.
There is so much to do in Australia, so much that's exciting and fascinating and formative. And any holiday here will be lending a huge hand to people who are struggling. That should be reason enough to commit, no matter how old you are.
Do you plan to holiday in Australia in the next 12 months? What are the upsides and downsides to domestic travel? Can you get good value for money in Australia?