There's a lot to like about Australian tourism, but then there are some things that really grate...
PUBS WITH NO CHEER
Faced with discounted booze at the bottle shop, city pubs have lifted their game with smart new fit-outs, bistro-style fare and a decent range of craft beers on tap. Sadly, many of Australia's historic country pubs have yet to follow suit. They are often a disgrace – run-down, cluttered and dusty. The ambience is chillier than the beer and the food indescribable. Contrast this with the atmospheric country pubs and bars in Britain, Ireland, New Zealand, USA and elsewhere.
JUST DON'T ASK
Australia, can we please stop asking "Howz'ya day been so far?" in every restaurant, hotel, shop and ticket office? Our poor overseas visitors feel compelled to answer, no matter how often they are asked – which can be several times a day.
THE SLAP: THE SEQUEL
Australia's hospitality industry has a nasty – and seemingly prevalent – habit of passing on basic costs of business to the customer. Adding 10 per cent to a restaurant and cafe bill due to paying staff weekend or public holiday rates is not on. As is slapping on three per cent for credit card payments on sums that are way higher than the amount of cash most people carry around. And far, far too many hotels are still charging often extravagant amounts for WiFi.
Mean on early check-ins, Australia's accommodation industry, with some exceptions, is also miserly on late check-outs. The international norm, particularly in Asia, is for midday check-outs but in the land down under it's still "outta here" by 10 am or, at best, 11 am. Let us linger a bit, will ya?
You know the drill - the chambray shirt (with logo), chirpy manner, booming delivery and, yes, truly woeful jokes. Whether you are snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, whale watching in South Australia or tasting wine in the Hunter, the Aussie tour guide is always somewhere near, shouting at you over the PA. Davo – he's often called Davo – is a bit of a larrikin. Actually, he's a bore who wears an Akubra hat and chambray shirt.
Is it any surprise that Australians have embraced Uber cabs with enthusiasm? Catching a normal taxi in any of the capital cities is a nightmare. Even with GPS, the average cab driver struggles to find their way out of the airport taxi rank. Shabby, smelly and bad-tempered the Aussie cab driver is the last thing you need after a long-haul flight. And luggage? If you're lucky he or she might flip the boot open from the driver's seat. Resentfully.
THE WRONG TRACK
You can now travel from Paris to Barcelona on a high-speed TGV train in six hours and 15 minutes. It is fast, quiet, comfortable, punctual, and links a total of 21 cities. We have some great rail experiences in Australia, such as The Ghan and the Indian Pacific, but the dream of moving speedily and easily from state to state on rail in this country of vast distances and relatively small population, remains stuck in the station.
Australia's service standards in its tourism industry are better than they're perceived to be. But our approach to service tends to lack refinement, and too many operators in key tourism hubs resort to transitory labour, in the form of backpackers, which tends to form of an overall poor picture of service standards. And, from big city hotels to small town B&Bs, we need to develop our own style of service that effectively combines professionalism with our innate geniality and egalitarianism. The Kiwis, who take tourism seriously because their economy depends on it, do it a whole lot better.
IN A SPIN
Head to European cities like Paris, Amsterdam, Munich and Copenhagen and it's natural to immediately hire a bike to explore. Even the mighty metropolis of New York now has separated cycleways and bike stations dotted over Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn. But arrive in an Australian city such as Sydney and you wouldn't dare, especially as a tourist unacquainted with the mean streets, it's too dangerous. Even the harbour city's own www.sydneycycleways.net website warns "cycling on city streets requires patience, planning and positioning".
BLACK AND WHITE
You can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Indigenous experiences that have survived long term in Australia. It can often be white Australians telling stories of the dreamtime or digging out a witchetty grub. Yet the stars in the night sky, rock art paintings, animal tracks and even the landscape itself take on a whole new meaning when seen in the company of someone who has absorbed Australia's great open spaces through the soles of their feet.
Think Europe, and images flood back of neighbourhoods gathered around public squares, terrace cafes spilling over the edges. Then there are the great promenading strips, such as Havana's Malecon or Dubai's Corniche. Australia sorely lacks these public spaces – Brisbane's Southbank and Melbourne's Federation Square don't quite serve the same function. Parks are all well and good, but they don't work as community gathering points in the evenings like a buzzing plaza does.