Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Australia: big, beautiful and pricey?

If you're travelling overseas and mention that you're from Australia, you get the inevitable kangaroo and koala associations.

You're also reminded that Australia is "big" and "beautiful".

But in recent times, I've found another adjective being bandied about by visitors who have been Down Under: "expensive".

While Australians will always have a whinge about the cost of living, I've been surprised to hear so many visitors so unanimously put off by how pricey Australia is.

On this trip, I hadn't even left the country before I heard the first complaint about Australia being expensive.   It was from an American lady waiting with me in the departure queue at the airport.

"Australia's beautiful, but everything is just so expensive," she said.

Just hours later, a British Airways flight attendant, who lives in London, echoed her sentiment.

And on it has continued like a broken record during the past few weeks as I've encountered different people from different countries.

I've noticed myself how the prices of everyday items, such as food and drink, in traditionally expensive destinations, like the UK and Europe, appear to be cheaper than they are in Australia.

While there are undoubtably broader economic issues at play here, it strikes me that if Australia wants to lift its game in the global tourism industry it needs to take some action.

There might not be much Australia can do to curb the cost of getting to the country, but perhaps there's a range of little things that our cities and regions can do to make Australia more enticing for international tourists.

Here's some ideas I've come across and enjoyed in other cities:

A free lift from the airport
Anyone, residents and visitors, arriving at the Geneva International Airport can pick up a ticket giving them free travel on the city's public transport system for 90 minutes.  Given the airport is only a 10-minute train or bus ride from the centre of town, this is more than enough time to get to wherever you're going.

Public transport for free while staying in Geneva

Free public transport
Geneva also gives everyone staying in a hotel a free transport pass for the duration of their stay.  I happily hopped on and off public transport as I visited Geneva's key sites and didn't pay a cent.   I compared this to the $3.53 I would pay in Brisbane to travel one zone from Roma Street Station to Central Station (both within the CBD).

Discounted public transport
Australia is a pretty big place so free public transport is not going to be an option everywhere. Luxembourg offers another solution.  For 11 Euro, you can buy the Luxembourg Card, which not only gives you discounted or free entry into many of the country's key attractions, but free travel anywhere in the country.  Granted Luxembourg is not a big country, but it is still bigger than most Australian capital cities.   Something like this could easily work in South-East Queensland, allowing people to discover more of Moreton Bay and the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

Travel anywhere in the country with the Luxembourg Card

Free city-wide wifi
Europe has really taken the lead on this one, with a number of cities offering free wifi wherever you are.  Australia is slowly catching on with free wifi in small pockets, such as in selected Brisbane parks or some city trains. Surely this is something that can benefit residents and visitors?

What other ideas have you come across that Australia could "borrow"?

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