Tourism must be our most molly-coddled industry. While nominally in private hands, at every turn it is promoted, regulated, organised, advertised and taxed by a multitude of government bodies. If all the bureaucrats and politicians living off the industry took simultaneous holidays, it would create its own tourist boom.
Every level of government seems driven to get into the tourist business. If Thomas Jefferson were living here today he would probably be forced to re-define the essential role of government as “the protection of life, liberty and property and the promotion of tourism”.
The Big Momma of Tourism is the Australian Tourist Commission. However, every state and territory also has their own bureau of tour promoters. And if all this is not enough, every capital city and many regional areas have their own travel bureaux, commissions and spruikers.
All this expensive overhead is in desperate need of an income. There are only two sources — taxes or fees for service.
As usual, Canberra has led the way in Tourist Taxes by introducing the Departure Tax. And like all taxes, it started small and was doubled later once people got used to it. State and local governments keep talking about bed taxes and other schemes to shift the cost of their expensive empires from taxpayers and ratepayers to tourists (none of whom are ever asked whether they wanted the “service” in the first place).
In their desperation for funds, the Tourist Qangos have gone far beyond promoting tourism and have got into competition with their industry by setting up, owning or subsidising travel agencies, booking systems, holiday packaging, casinos, cultural centres, convention centres, Mardi Gras, resorts, airports, expos and car races.
Whenever politicians start chucking buckets of money around you can be sure it will be followed by losses for the taxpayer, jobs for mates, scandal, corruption and then commissions of enquiry.
For example, Peter Walsh was one of the most responsible politicians to try to hold the purse strings in Canberra. He complained in 1985 about the NT Government subsidies, guarantees and investments in resorts and hotels at Ayres Rock, Alice Springs and Darwin. He warned that those ventures “could cost taxpayers $300 million”.
It turned out that Walsh was an optimist. In 1994 a group of investors brought a 40% interest in Ayers Rock Resort Co Ltd for $24 million. This values the resort at $60 million. Taxpayers had sunk about $550 million into this project — a cool half billion loss on one deal alone.
With the glamour status of the tourism industry, the nationalised education industry is getting into the act. We have Professors of Tourism and Hospitality, a proliferation of degree courses, and, I’m sure, PhD “Research” scholars. (Maybe all this is an appropriate preparation for our approaching national status as cooks and waiters for the industrial barons of Asia.)
Can you imagine any government education bureaucracy teaching anything useful to the tourist industry — service, hospitality, tidiness, good manners, value for money? This is surely a field that is best learnt on the job. There is certainly no case for taxpayers to be funding such courses.
Posturing politicians seem to think that every Australian profits from the growth of tourism. To many residents, however, an epidemic of tourists is about as welcome as a tax audit. The Fitzgerald Enquiry was told in 1987 that crime rates in tourist areas were 62% higher than in non tourist areas. Tourists also bring increased rents, increased traffic and increased costs. Excessive tourism erodes the quality of life for most residents, while the benefits fall heavily on airlines, hotels, resorts and their employees. When the harassed residents also find out that much of the tourist promotion comes out of their taxes, they are likely to become bitter indeed.
The Greenies continually promote tourism to replace traditional wealth generators such as wood-chipping, forestry, mining and farming. However, this support is only theoretical. Once a road, resort, cable-way or casino is actually proposed, the Greenies go into anti-gear and everything bogs down in endless hearing, enquiries, objections or world heritage listings.
We already have a backlash against immigrants. At least some immigrants settle here, start producing and will assist us to hold this rich empty land.
Tourists, however, have no such commitment. They come here to gaze in wonder at our huge potential in land, minerals, food and forestry, most of which, in their eyes, is grossly undeveloped. They see a Cornucopia of riches defended by a handful of arrogant, pampered, unpopular Europeans many of whom are at the pub, on the beach or on welfare. Every tourist sees both our wealth and our weakness.
Idle undefended resources are always a magnet for the hungry landless hordes. Today they come with cameras and looks of astonishment. One day they will come back with guns. Will we then remember the Tourist Promotion Boards that subsidised their interest and their envy?
And despite all the “encouragement”, government taxes, development delays, customs irritations, air-line regulations and rigid award structures are major impediments to the tourism industry. In the words of the Vice President of All Nippon Airways, our tourist industry is over-priced and over-regulated.
Tourism is obviously a valuable industry, and I have no quarrel with it. But I object strongly to the excessive government presence in the industry. There is no justification for taxpayers funds to be spent on tourist promotion, subsidies or investment in resorts, car races, hospitality courses or anything else.
All the Tourist Boards, Commissions, Corporations and Bureaus should be weaned immediately from all government money. Those whose service is valuable will survive. Those who cannot get support from airlines, railways, motels, resorts, casinos or other tourist operators should be left to quietly abolish themselves.
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