Australian tourism experience: Eight things that need to improve

I'm not here to kick someone when they're down. The tourism industry in Australia has suffered greatly this year, as it has worldwide. A global pandemic is not good for those of us who rely on freedom of movement to make a living.

I love travelling in Australia, in this wide, brown land filled with beauty and wonder. However, you have to admit there are problems. This place might be filled with beauty and wonder, but that doesn't mean you can always get a decent coffee.

For Australian tourism operators, promoters and regulators hoping to please their new audience this summer – that is, Australians – these are the issues that need addressing.

Improve the service

Customer, man paying by contactless credit card with NFC technology in cafe, attractive smiling waitress holding card reader machine, young couple on date in cozy restaurant or coffeehouse Customer paying by contactless credit card, traveller, waitress holding reader, paying bill receipt. Istock photo

Service is key: There's going to be a post-JobKeeper talent drain. Photo: iStock

This is the classic complaint from Australians travelling in their own country: the service is lacklustre. Whether we're talking restaurants or cafes, hotels or motels, shops or attractions, these places are often staffed by people with no skin in the game, who aren't trained properly and who are treading water until they can get a real job. Compare that to any other tourism-focused country and Australia looks bad. There are exceptions, of course, but mostly we need to lift our game (and get more government support to stop the inevitable post-JobKeeper talent drain).

Stay open

Group of young people celebrating Christmas party dinner with clinking glass of wine Christmas wine
iStock

Who doesn't like a late dinner and drink with mates? Photo: iStock

Regional cafes closed on Sundays. Restaurants that shut over public holiday weekends. Large towns where you have no chance of grabbing dinner after 8pm. Australia can be frustrating for travellers who just want to grab a drink and a bite to eat at times that don't match the locally accepted, narrow window for doing so. A little more reliability and flexibility would go a long way.

Get the word out

Australia seems to have a problem with messaging. We have so much to do in this country, so much that's exciting and amazing and unique, and yet people don't know about it. There remains a perception that you'll have more fun overseas, and maybe you should sit tight and save for that. I'm not sure who is to blame here – hey, maybe it's me – but Australia needs to do a better job of letting domestic travellers know what is on offer.

Make better food

Two glasses of red wine with charcuterie assortment, beaujolais concept Charcuterie platter.
iStock image downloaded under the Good Food team account (contact syndication for reuse permissions).

Australia, we have great local produce. Photo: iStock

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It seems grossly condescending to me to just assume that people running restaurants and cafes in rural areas in Australia can't make decent food – that you have to put up with lukewarm pies and plastic-cheese toasties because that's the best anyone can do. Australians can cook. They have skill. They have access to decent produce. The only thing missing here is an insistence from visitors and locals that they lift their game. (Again, of course, there are exceptions that only serve to prove the rule.)

Be more affordable

Australians love travelling, and we love eating out. But hey, it's pretty pricey. Photo: iStock

This is it. This is the clincher. And it's impossible to know how to make it happen. Because travel in Australia is expensive. Accommodation is expensive. Food and drink is expensive. Experiences are expensive. They're expensive on face value, and they're even more expensive when you start comparing them to the likes of Thailand or Indonesia or Vietnam. So, what's the solution? If you can come up with one you'll be a hero to all domestic travellers.

Be closer

Young woman is on an airport runway, ready to board the plane iStock image for Traveller. Re-use permitted.

It'll be great to travel across the country without having to hop on a plane or drive overnight. Photo: iStock

Again, this is an unsolvable and yet still annoying factor for travel in Australia: the tyranny of distance. This is a big, big country. And unless you're moving between capital cities, it can be difficult and expensive to get around. You're looking at long drive days or pricey niche flights. Some of my favourite destinations in Australia just feel far, far away. For example: I absolutely love Margaret River, but from where I live in Sydney, that's a five-hour flight and then a three-hour drive. You could get to Singapore in that time. You could almost make it to Hawaii. And there's no solution (though high-speed rail in certain areas would be a start).

Institute a national approach to border closures

SatSep26Cameron
Queensland signage warns of penalties for crossing into the state from NSW at the lonely Cameron Corner border crossing 1,330 kilometres northwest of Sydney.

Border closures, it's been confusing for everyone.

It's been mind-boggling this year to watch as states have closed their borders and then refused to open them again, for seemingly arbitrary reasons and with absolutely zero consistency. For travellers to have confidence to go interstate this summer, we desperately need a mutually-agreed-upon set of parameters for border closures, to allow visitors the best chance to make informed decisions. How many cases before borders close? How long before they'll open again? Will quarantine be at home or in a hotel? We really need the states to work together on this.

Relax the rules

Two young female Caucasian friends holding social distance during walk during pandemic and wearing n-95 face masks. Friends reconnecting after COVID-19 lockdown ends. iStock photo.

We all want to catch-up with friends, but lets try to make it more fun. Photo: iStock

It's been great to see this happening already in some places: Melbourne, for example, allowing more outdoor dining to help restaurants coming out of lockdown. But for those who usually take their holidays overseas, Australia can still seem like a very rule-heavy place. Where are the beachfront bars, you wonder, where you can wriggle your toes in the sand while drinking a beer? Where's the freedom to buy a drink from a pub and take it with you onto the street? Where are the pop-up live music venues, outdoor spaces now desperately needed to support the industry? Where's the encouragement to do something as simple as ride a bike without risking a $425 fine for running a light? If you want people to travel, make it more fun.

What do you think needs to improve when it comes to the Australian tourism experience? What changes would you make? How do we tackle some of the seemingly unsolvable issues?

See also: How I bribed a border guard to get into the DRC

See also: I spent $1500 on lunch, and it was the weirdest meal of my life

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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