As state premiers begin to ease restrictions on recreational travel, the possibility of ‘getting away’ and enjoying a holiday with family and friends, at least within our home states, is becoming more of a reality.
Southern Cross University Professor of Tourism Kevin Markwell said the economic importance of domestic tourism often tends to be overlooked yet for the year ending December 2019 117.4 million visitor nights accounted for $80.7 billion. Each trip averaged 4 nights and the average spend per trip was $687.00 In comparison, international tourism earned Australia $45.4 billion.
“Quite obviously, the lack of any international tourism will leave a big hole in the national economy, but we should not underestimate the contribution that domestic tourism can make, especially to rural and regional communities,” he said.
“While limited air and rail travel are starting to kick back into gear, these modes of travel pose some problems from a risk-reduction perspective, it may well be that road trips become the preferred option for many. The private motor car revolutionised leisure travel in Australia from the inter-war year period onwards.”
In the period that gave rise to motels, families were no longer reliant on bus and train routes, and could use their motor vehicles to fan out across the country using the highways and lesser travelled roads.
Tourist routes were promoted in motorists’ magazines like NRMA’s Open Road and caravan parks and camping areas proliferated along the coast while motels – ‘motor hotels’ – took off from the 1960s.
Roadside ‘big thing’ icons such as the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the Gosford Dinosaur and Nambour’s Giant Pineapple provided opportunities to break up the drive, take some family photographs and purchase a snack.
The private car’s place in Australian identity is as strong as ever with the 2016 Australian Census telling us that 84% of Australian households had access to at least one car. As of 31 January, 2019, Australia had 19.5 million registered motor vehicles.
“As a form of tourism, drive tourism reduces the risks of catching COVID-19. Safely enclosed in the car, travellers are not exposed to the crowds at airports, nor are they cooped up for hours at a time in the cabin of an aircraft or train,” Professor Markwell said.
“Activities including eating out and visiting attractions will be modified and adapted, while engaging in activities such as walking in national parks and state forests, where it is generally easy to physically distance is one way to reduce COVID-risk.”
Motels with their room access often directly from the car park means that check in can be limited to a single person interacting with the motel owner to receive the room key. Alternative arrangements could be made that do away with any interaction with the manager. Caravan parks and camping areas may also be less risky than accommodation that requires more time in enclosed spaces such as hotel lobbies with others.
“There is also an opportunity for travellers to consider travelling shorter distances these holidays within their own state,” Professor Markwell said.
“Slowing down the pace of the travel experience can create all kinds of new opportunities for experiencing places and the natures and cultures that give them their distinctiveness. Choosing to use backroads that take the visitor into landscapes less travelled through can enrich the experience. By doing so, the carbon emissions from vehicles won’t be as high if people attempt major road trips covering many hundreds or even thousands of kilometres.
“But caution will still be required otherwise the virus could be spread from the cities to country areas. New forms of COVID-safe behaviours will have to be developed, promoted, and policed. Cleaning regimes at accommodation, cafes and restaurants and attractions will need to upgraded. Hand sanitiser made available everywhere.
“It’s a safe bet that tourism will be kick started by domestic tourism and it’s also a safe bet to say that drive tourism is going to play a major role in domestic tourism.”