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Making it difficult: Australian tourism

The woes of the Australian tourist industry are loudly proclaimed. Not only are foreign tourists staying away, but many Australians choose to holiday overseas in preference to local holidays. The high Australian dollar is partly to blame, but the issues run deeper than that.

Australia is a large, sparsely populated continent and its human history is mostly Stone Age or relatively recent. Many tourist attractions are widely separated and travel between them is difficult or expensive. You can't just hop in a fast train and catch public transport to most places and driving to the more remote sights can be fraught with danger. One reason that I suspect Victoria is a relatively popular tourist destination within Australia is because of its compactness and density, along with it's European-like emphasis on cultural attractions.

There are no sites of epic battles, of fortifications and not much grand old architecture. No ruined cities (although Sydney might be included in that category) and little (but not zero!) in the way of amazing engineering feats.

Shopping wise it often feels like there is little to distinguish between anywhere in the country with the same of chain stores, the same old parochial or Made in Asia souvenir products, same old food stuffs available everywhere. It's not entirely true, as you would discover on biting into some fresh local produce rather than city supermarket goods, but for processed foods it usually is.

Yet there are plenty of worthwhile, if not astonishingly beautiful, sights left to see in Australia. I have a catalogue of places to visit here, if only I could afford the time and the cost to get there. But then compare it with many overseas destinations where we can pack in a whole lot more in any given time while experiencing a culture utterly different to what we see everyday.

It so happens that our next trip will be within Australia: Up to Central Queensland for a couple of days to attend my sister's wedding. I've just booked everything and it was a pretty disappointing experience that perhaps illustrates some of the issues that face regional tourism in Australia.

Had we paid for airfares on Qantas the total cost would have been almost the same as it is costing one of us to fly to Europe less than a month later. Virgin Blue wasn't much cheaper and let's not get into flying with Tiger right now!

However, it was accommodation that shocked me more. We got what should be a decent hotel in Rockhampton for a reasonable price, but I would have preferred to be on the Capricorn Coast. Unfortunately, there wasn't much available there for under $100 with most well over that mark. And we are talking motels here, many with fairly basic facilities. None looked like value for money, but if that's what it costs them to operate, well, so be it.

What did disappoint me was the lack on online information and booking facilities for accommodation along the coast. Wotif.com appears to be the most useful service for booking them, but it's still difficult to get a feel for the accommodation itself.

The local tourist information service was even more dire. Would you really to travel for this? Surely they can sell themselves better than that! Not that I would place the Capricorn Coast high on my list of must see destinations, but then I went to school there.

Then again, if the locals are taking their cue for Tourism Australia then I can understand the results. I've seen very few campaigns from them that would make me want to visit Australia. The world has moved on, but much of our tourist industry still seems mired in the past.

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