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Barr reveals plan to recover lost ACT tourism revenue

A plan to recover lost tourism revenue and numbers over the next three years, and to grow the sector over the next decade was revealed by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr at the National Arboretum yesterday, Wednesday 20 January.

Mr Barr said that before COVID-19, the ACT was achieving record numbers of both domestic and international tourists. In 2019, the industry employed 18,500 people, and brought $2.5 billion into the local economy. But the sector lost $1.3 billion in the year ending September 2020, due to the double whammy of bushfires and travel restrictions.

Nine in 10 (90%) of the ACT’s visitors come from within Australia; Sydney alone, for instance, was traditionally 60% of the ACT’s domestic tourism market. But as Sydney was in lockdown, the ACT has not marketed itself there for a while, and the usual summer custom was lost this year.

“There’s no point in doing tourism marketing when your public health message is the exact opposite,” Mr Barr said.

He said the ACT Government is determined to rebuild and regrow overnight visitor expenditure to $3.5 billion by 2030. Market research shows that Canberra significantly exceeds visitors’ expectations. “The challenge is just to get them interested in the first place.”

According to Mr Barr, the ACT offers diverse experiences that appeal to families, to cultural tourists, and to adventure seekers – people looking for nature close to a sophisticated city.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr with Scott Saddler AM, executive branch manager for the National Arboretum Canberra and Stromlo Forest Park. Picture: Kerrie Brewer.

“There isn’t really another major Australian city with the amenity of hotels, restaurants, transport connections, and the like that has venues within a stone’s throw of the CBD like the Arboretum, Stromlo Forest Park, and Namadgi National Park.

“There is a range of things that we have, but other places don’t. We’ve got all the national cultural institutions – the absolute mainstays of our city.

“Increasingly, our hotels and other private sector tourism product is best in class. People would come here to stay at Jamala Wildlife Lodge [at the National Zoo and Aquarium]. It is a destination in and of itself.”

To recover and regrow those tourist numbers, the ACT Government has embarked on the largest-ever domestic destination marketing campaign in the Territory’s history. More Than was launched in September 2020; the government will invest $2 million more in the campaign over the next three years.

Mr Barr said that under a $1.5 million Co-Investment Program, tourism providers will be able to put forward projects to receive matched government funding: physical and digital infrastructure, marketing, and programs that improve the tourism experience.

“The question is a neat balance, or finding the right balance, between the volume of visitors and how much they spend,” Mr Barr said.

“We are not going for low spend, mass market here. That’s not the product that we have. We’re not the Gold Coast; we’re not looking to get a million backpackers here. We’re looking to get people who are going to spend money in our economy.”

Calls to repay JobKeeper

Mr Barr believes companies who made record profits should hand back their JobKeeper subsidies. This would create funds for the Federal government to allocate money to a smaller range of industry sectors badly affected by the pandemic.

“That would be the honourable thing for those companies to do. There’s potentially hundreds of them, hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars sitting there that should be repaid.”

Chief Minister Andrew Barr admires a bonsai plant at the National Arboretum. Picture: Kerrie Brewer

Certain sectors of the tourism and hospitality sector should receive extra support because they will not have access to international tourists, Mr Barr said.

“But it’s going to vary across the county, and it’s going to vary depending on the particular sector, and even the subsector within tourism and hospitality.”

While some sectors have suffered, others have thrived. In the Australian economy, Mr Barr said, there has been a substitution of customer spending away from certain industry sectors, and towards others. Some sectors of the economy had their biggest year ever.

“If you’re making the biggest profits you’ve ever made, you don’t need Commonwealth JobKeeper subsidies; you should hand it back.”

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