Dispatch, Australia: It's not you, it's me


Destinations editor Eric Moya visited Australia last week during the Australian Tourism Exchange, held in the city of Gold Coast in the state of Queensland.

I spent about a week in Australia and didn't see one kangaroo. And I'm OK with that.

Nothing against the marsupials, mind you. In fact, Travel Weekly readers might recall Shane Nelson's article in our destinations section last year about some of the country's well-known wildlife.

Or, speaking of must-see Australian sights, maybe you read this month's piece by our Masters Series contributor Abe Peck about his visit to the Field of Light installation at Uluru, in the country's Northern Territory.

I did visit Sydney's Bondi Beach and had cocktails and dinner within its Opera House. But otherwise, I'm not sure I saw much of what we in the U.S. might consider Australia's tourism draws.

So you might be wondering: How exactly did I spend my time in Australia? I spent a few days in Sydney and Brisbane, but much of it was in Gold Coast, host of this year's Australian Tourism Exchange. In addition to checking out that city's hotel offerings, culinary scene and nightlife, I had the chance to speak with dozens of tour operators, hoteliers and local tourism officials about their hopes for attracting more U.S. visitors.

One recurring theme was how little vacation time Americans take, and thus, with time at such a premium, how U.S. travelers can be reluctant to take a trip to the land Down Under. (For me, it was about 14 hours from Los Angeles to Sydney on Virgin Australia, plus a connecting flight from New York.)

So for Tourism Australia, those are significant obstacles to address, though major players in Australia's tourism industry are certainly striving to make visiting easier and more attractive to Americans.

Current efforts to promote aquatic and coastal attractions (catch-and-release sport fishing is a particular focus for this year) play into the country's traditional allure, while the longstanding Restaurant Australia campaign aims to reassure folks that there's a diversity of culinary offerings for those not in the mood for shrimp on the barbie (you can still have that, of course).

The GoPro Athlete Summit held before the Australian Tourism Exchange sought to raise awareness among a younger, more active demographic. Meanwhile, the "There's Nothing Like Australia" tourism campaign as of this year boasts a charismatic, high-profile spokesman in the form of Chris Hemsworth, a proud, outdoors-loving Aussie.

"Every time I come back I appreciate it even more and think how lucky I am to have grown up and lived here," the actor said during the Australian Tourism Exchange's opening-night gala.

On the airlift front, Virgin Australia recently unveiled a reconfigured cabin for its 777-300ER aircraft, including improvements for its premium-economy seating, bringing business-class amenities to this leisure-focused cabin category. And Middle Eastern carriers such as Etihad and Emirates are increasingly offering East Coasters yet more options for making their way to Australia.

Tourism Australia's efforts seem to be paying off: Last year about 610,000 Americans visited Australia, a 10% increase from Australia's fourth-largest inbound market. As for how to increase those numbers even further, I get the feeling that it's less about what Australia is or isn't doing to entice travelers, and more about what Americans feel they can do with their relatively limited time off.

"From the West Coast of the U.S. you can do the east coast of Australia in a week, if you really want to," John O'Sullivan, managing director of Tourism Australia, told me.

"If you really want to" being the key. That's essentially what I did, and I definitely felt like I hadn't even scratched the surface of the country's tourism offerings -- e.g., no kangaroo sightings.

If Tourism Australia had its way, that would be an enticement to revisit, and an itinerary for another time. I just might be persuaded.

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