There was a thoughtful and thought-provoking article by Europe-based Australian travel writer David Whitley on the Sydney Morning Herald website today. Whitley argues that Australia can never compete with Europe in attracting tourists – Europe has so much that Australia will never be able to match.
We can’t provide tourists with centuries of history or spectacular ancient buildings, says Whitley. We have no great castles or cathedrals or museums like the Louvre or the Uffizi. Our modern architecture, with the Sydney Opera House as a notable exception, is uninspiring. Our mountains are puny compared to the Alps. We have no drawcard festivals like Oktoberfest, Carnivale in Venice or even Queen’s Day in Holland. We don’t even have summer twilight.
In Europe you can travel three hours on a train and traverse three different countries, passing through charming villages and encountering totally different languages and cultures. Three hours on the train from Sydney will take you through Goulburn and Yass.
We Australians know there is more diversity in our country than immediately meets the eye, but it’s hard to convince tourists that a short trip away from central Sydney to Campsie or Auburn will be culturally fascinating.
Anyway, why are we talking competition at all? Are history, architecture, museums and festivals all that travel is about? Hands up anyone who’s ever suffered from cathedral and castle fatigue? Who wants to go to Oktoberfest anyway? What’s the point of whipping through three different countries in three hours just because you can? Are mountains more spectacular just because they’re higher? I queued for an hour and a half to get into the Uffizi and paid a lot of money to shuffle past a couple of Botticellis. Nice, but I’d already seen them in books.
Of course we don’t have Europe’s attractions, but Europe doesn’t have ours, either. Let’s focus for a moment on what we have in Australia which visitors may be interested in – attractions found (almost) exclusively in Australia, and certainly nowhere in Europe.
We may feel the promotion of Australia as a place to surf, cuddle koalas and see kangaroos in the outback is getting tired. We may feel we should be doing more to promote ourselves as a sophisticated, cosmopolitan country with smart accommodation, high art and fine dining.
But what really sets us apart for visitors is that Australia, even around its tourist magnets, is not as crowded as Europe, and still has a few natural wonders left.