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McGowan Government must think big for tourism revival

With no improvement to the number of tourists coming here from overseas perhaps it is time we faced some home truths and the McGowan Government started to think big.

Perth is, well, just Perth.

Isolated and in a State devoid of any universally recognised landmarks. Cursed by the tyranny of distance and strangled by rules and regulations that stifle the sort of spontaneous vibrancy other cities have to offer.

Name a single man-made attraction to tempt overseas tourists to choose Perth?

If you were thinking of the Bell Tower or Elizabeth Quay then you need to broaden your own horizons. They are small fry.

Identify anything in Perth that is considered so unique that people flock here from all over the world to experience it.

If quokka selfies on Rottnest Island crossed your mind, then you are being sucked in by all the hype.

Besides, when two British tourists come close to tragedy on the island while standing on a badly neglected jetty it makes a mockery of trying to claim Rottnest as the jewel in the Perth crown for international visitors.

Now, think of Sydney for a minute and you immediately picture the Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Bondi Beach. So do people living all over the world.

Ponder what Queensland has to offer your precious holiday time and spending money and the Gold Coast, Daintree rainforest and Great Barrier Reef spring to mind.

Daily flights to Brisbane from China and Japan prove those iconic names are front of mind for Asian tourists.

Tell me which single event draws thousands of people to Perth from around the globe?

Apart from being a shopping and gastronomic mecca, Melbourne has the Formula One Grand Prix. Sydney has the world’s biggest Gay Mardi Gras and about 40 per cent of the people watching the city’s New Year’s Eve fireworks show are overseas visitors.

This column is not being written with the aim of running down Perth and WA.

We lucky locals know it is a wonderful place to live, raise a family or retire.

In fact, we probably take for granted the quality of beaches and open spaces on our doorstep. Margaret River is only a few hours drive and represents the best of what WA can offer locals and overseas visitors.

My family holiday somewhere in WA every year and would choose a location like Denmark over Bali any day of the week. Long trail walks, fishing and fitting in a pub meal before the kitchen shuts suit us down to the ground.

But in the fiercely competitive international tourism market Perth simply does not cut it right now — and that is not just because too many Perth pubs still charge $12 or more for a pint of locally brewed beer.

The Chinese, for example, have limited holidays and when they board a plane they want to arrive and be able to do and see a great deal in a short time.

Imagine, for example, what you could tick off your bucket list with just three days in Sydney.

The latest data about international visitors has continued the disappointing trend with another fall of almost 2 per cent, which in financial terms translates into about $250 million less for the local economy.

Worse still, the statistics reveal that overseas tourists are pouring into Australia, but avoiding Perth and WA.

Tasmania, which markets its natural environment and cultural attractions such as the Museum of Old and New Art, had a 21 per cent increase in the number of visitors flying in from other countries.

“To be successful, Tourism WA must be able to compete with other States which are investing significant funds in aviation development, destination marketing and major events to further boost their enormous tourism jobs growth,” said Tourism Council chief Evan Hall.

The decline in international visitors will be vexing the McGowan Government and highly enthusiastic Tourism Minister Paul Papalia, who has travelled to China, Japan and India trying to secure direct flights.

Earlier this year, Papalia announced a two-year “action plan” supported by the promise of $425 million for destination marketing, which he has long trumpeted as the key to getting tourists to WA.

“They are drawn by the money the Government spends,” he said in 2016. “It is a simple equation. The money invested in destination marketing and events funding will be recouped through revenue to businesses in the State, and jobs and opportunity for people who work in that sector.”

The minister is hoping that the slump in visitor numbers will soon be arrested as all the marketing and events kick-in to create a tourism “boom” for WA.

We recently saw the launch of a campaign being spruiked overseas that promotes WA as “the road trip State” in the hope of attracting Asian and European tourists who want to spend days and days driving between destinations.

Given the distances and condition of some of our regional roads, any spike in the number of foreign drivers is not without risk. On the back of the recent release of negative numbers, the Tourism Council listed its three priorities.

Approve non-government tourism investment in new attractions for Perth and regional WA.

Match marketing investment made by other States, particularly funding for Aboriginal tourism.

Secure major events at venues such as Optus Stadium and RAC Arena which drive big numbers of visitors to WA.

The first point on the wish list is the notion of “build it and they will come”. To some extent, Colin Barnett’s new stadium is proof of that.

But Perth needs more. Of all the grand plans for our city that have come and gone, two have stuck in my mind as being realistic and appealing.

A cable car, which would offer tourists a birds-eye view as they travelled between Elizabeth Quay and the heart of Kings Park, could be a game changer for Perth if done properly. Just consider what the journey would be like at night with the city lit up as the cable car glided above the wide grass walkway that exists between May Drive Parkland and the “DNA” tower.

Tourists would descend over the freeway to a spot near the Swan River.

This need not be a pipedream.

Cairns has a spectacular cable car ride from north of the city into a rainforest that takes more the two hours return. Sydney’s Taronga Zoo has its Sky Safari.

A second achievable landmark for the city would be a Swan River fountain shooting more than 100m high between the city and South Perth. Lake Geneva is famous for its 140m-high Jet d’Eau.

Barnett left us the stadium and Elizabeth Quay. Perhaps it is time for Premier Mark McGowan to start considering what tourism facilities he wants to create for Perth.

But he needs to think big so people around the world think of Perth when planning to holiday in Australia.

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