22 February 2024
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Barangaroo opens today but where have all the tourists gone?

Peter Switzer
8 August 2022

Tourism has been the fourth most important export industry for Australia and that mantle has been undermined by the Coronavirus, so we should welcome a new tourist attraction that opens its doors today in the shape of the Crown casino in Barangaroo. However, this comes when those leaving Australia vastly outnumber those who want to come here.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that incoming travellers to Australia are currently 80% lower than Aussies heading to overseas destinations, despite sky-high airfares and a lack of seats on planes. The ABS says 231,480 short-term tourists came here in May but 420,110 Aussies went the other way.

Those numbers aren’t being helped by our current political problem with Beijing, which recently got worse when Foreign Minister Penny Wong stuck it to China over their military exercises and missile launches following the visit to Taiwan by US Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Daily Mail said that Senator Wong, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met at an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting in Cambodia this week and gave it to Beijing. “They condemned the People's Republic of China’s launch of ballistic missiles, five of which the Japanese government reported landed in its exclusive economic zones, raising tension and destabilising the region,”  the newspaper’s Padraig Collins reported. “The secretary and the foreign ministers urged the People’s Republic of China to immediately cease the military exercises.”

Important as it is to get China to behave like a cooperative global citizen, this chastising of the Chinese leadership is no help in getting the 1.4 million Chinese tourists, who used to come here each year before the pandemic, back here holidaying. And for Crown, these people like a bit of gambling as well!

Sure, it will be a VIP-only casino, but I can see tourism operators creating the saloon passage package of hotel rooms, Sydney hot spots and a bit of time on the cards, the roulette table and other playthings of gamblers.

The new tourism attraction is now owned by US investment firm Blackstone, which paid $8.9 billion for the publicly listed company, majority-owned by James Packer. While Packer is no longer a shareholder, selling his stake for $3.3 billion, he intends to move himself and his family into his $60 million apartment in the Barangaroo tower.

Clearly, this is a good news story within a tourism sector that will take time to recover, with overseas travellers still discouraged by Covid concerns, the price of overseas plane tickets, seating availability and the perennial concern about how far away Australia is for non-intrepid travellers.

The Albanese Government certainly needs to ramp up its overseas marketing to get all manner of potential workers to Australia as soon as possible, because the economy is desperately short of employees. This will be a brake on economic growth and won’t help the Government reduce its budget deficit and debt.

Before the pandemic, tourism directly employed 666,000 Australians, making up 5% of Australia's workforce, and 44 cents of every tourism dollar was spent on regional destinations. As I pointed out above, tourism was Australia's fourth largest exporting industry, accounting for 8.2% of our export earnings so we need to move heaven and earth to get this country of ours back on the global travellers’ maps.

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