Overseas visitors continue to shun WA as economy cops fresh $200 million tourism blow
In politics, the answer you get when you are trying to determine the significance of an event or development inevitably depends on who you talk to.
Sometimes it also depends not just on who you ask, but when you ask them.
That is definitely the case with Western Australia’s tourism statistics —and just how big a deal the state’s continued poor performance on that front actually is.
When the former Liberal-National government was in power and statistics showed the state’s tourism industry was taking a hit, Labor described the situation as a “disaster”.
“[Colin] Barnett needs to explain how he’s allowed WA’s performance to slide to such diabolical levels,” then-Labor tourism spokesman Paul Papalia said as data was released in late 2016 pointing to a revenue hit for tourism accommodation providers.
‘There’s no-one sitting at the airport with a counter’
But Mr Papalia — now the Tourism Minister — was singing a different tune earlier this year.
That was when Tourism Research Australia data showed sluggish growth in overseas visitor numbers, and that those who were making the trip were spending less money and not staying as long.
“It’s not that accurate … it’s just a projection based on a pretty inaccurate methodology,” Mr Papalia said of those statistics in July.
“There is no-one sitting at the airport with a counter, counting the number of people entering WA.”
Four months on, and the latest batch of statistics, released last week, provided even worse news for WA.
Strong tourism growth bypasses WA
Overseas visitor numbers were down two per cent for the 12 months to the end of June, while their spend was down 10 per cent — a hit to WA’s economy of more than $200 million.
Making matters worse, every other Australian jurisdiction, bar the Northern Territory, experienced strong growth over the same period.
Both Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, in particular, experienced rapid increases in the number of overseas tourists.
But rather than dismissing the accuracy of the statistics, the McGowan Government took a different approach this time around, using the numbers to try to talk up its efforts to woo tourists back to WA.
“The latest international visitor survey shows that our visitor numbers are up 17.2 per cent over the course of the last year, significantly higher than national growth,” Premier Mark McGowan told Parliament this week.
“When it comes to Japanese tourists, visitor numbers are up 9.5 per cent, more than double the national growth figure, and visitor spend from Japan is up a massive 13.2 per cent.”
In summary, punters could be forgiven for being a little confused about how worried they should be about the continued hit to WA’s visitor numbers.
Positive spin on disappointing numbers
But clearly, a fall in overseas tourists in its first year-and-a-half in office was not what Labor had in mind when it promised to put tourism front and centre of a push to diversify the state’s economy.
The Government is putting its faith in a new campaign dubbing WA “The Road Trip State” — a plan it hopes will woo back a working holiday market which has drastically fallen away.
It is still trying to connect Perth to more key markets with direct flights, with Mr Papalia having headed to both Japan and India this year in an attempt to convince airlines to fly to WA.
Neither of those scenarios have eventuated yet, although the Government is still hopeful.
Labor unquestionably hopes that before too long it can use the quarterly visitor survey to pump its chest for a job well done, rather than try to put a positive spin on disappointing data.
How quickly that can happen, though, remains uncertain.