“Day trips are the main source of international tourism for some of these regional destinations, as they find it difficult to convert international day trips to overnight stays.”
Apart from the Great Barrier Reef, regional destinations that attract significant tourist numbers – the Blue Mountains in NSW, Ballarat and Bendigo in Victoria – are close to capital cities.
India is Australia’s fastest growing tourist market, but Austrade data suggests Indians are the most likely to avoid regional Australia, spending 92 per cent of their nights in a capital city.
Visitors from China (91 per cent), Japan (80 per cent), Korea (85 per cent) and Singapore (87 per cent) also largely shunned regional and rural areas.
Domestic family road trippers and young people aged 15-to-34 from the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand were most likely to visit regional areas.
“Regional Australia is part of their ‘bucket list’ and a chance to learn something new, but they are more price-sensitive than other travellers,” the report said.
Federal tourism minister Simon Birmingham said tourism was important for many regional economies.
“We do need to look at whether more can be done to get more tourists out into the regions to spend more and stay longer,” he said.
Last week Tourism Australia released its $38 million “philausophy” tourism campaign, which aims to attract international visitors by highlighting Australia’s laidback lifestyle.
Felicity Picken, a lecturer in Western Sydney University’s School of Social Sciences and Psychology, said the time and cost of travelling to regional Australia were significant barriers for international visitors.
“Currently, zoos, peri-urban wildlife parks and proximate national parks do well to satisfy wildlife experiences and Australia’s capital cities are all coastal with ready access to beaches,” she said.
Dr Picken said regional areas needed more “China-readiness” by addressing the practical needs of tourists such as language barriers and transport, rather than glossy tourism campaigns.
Much of regional Australia “holds some charm”, but Dr Picken said the cost and difficulties in travelling ramped up pressure to produce a worthwhile experience.
“A literal lack of beds is a problem being experienced in parts of regional Australia now and require significant investment,” she said.
The report also found some international visitors preferred capital cities because they believed there was more to see and do. Those preferences were driven by “the shopping and dining experiences available, as well as the ease of getting there”.
Tourism contributes 4.2 per cent to the economy of regional Australia compared to 2.7 per cent in the capital cities. Yet Sydney and Melbourne dominate the market for international visitors.
“NSW and Victoria have relatively low regional visitation shares due to the pulling power of their respective capital cities,” the report said.
“Drawing more international visitors to the bush is especially vital as only eight cents of every tourism dollar spent in regional Australia comes from overseas tourists,” said Assistant Minister for Regional Tourism Jonathon Duniam.
The report found one in 10 domestic travellers preferred to go overseas rather than visit regional Australia. This group had higher than average household income and three-quarters were capital city residents.
Andrew Taylor is a Senior Reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.