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So, where the bloody hell are they? Australia's tourism authorities hose down fears of a slump: all the signs of a looming recession are there: petrol is up, gas-guzzling 4WDs are on the nose, retail spending is down, property values appear to have stalled--oh, and shoplifting is up, A pretty good bunch of indicators that the economy is, well, a bit wobbly on its feet.

Even the regular crop of snow-bunnies at our winter resorts say they're watching the pennies, forcing ski lift operators to drastically reduce their prices to lure the punters onto the pommas. Tough times, indeed.

One sector of the economy that must be more than a little nervous is the tourism industry. Putting aside the must-fly business customers, this is a business that's hugely dependent upon discretionary spend--people can decide to travel, or not, on the flip of a coin, or the downturn of an economy. If rising fuel prices frighten domes tic grey nomads thinking of setting off around Australia, they scare the wits out of potential visitors from Europe or the USA, faced with steeply rising air fares.

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Last year's infamous ad campaign, based on the pneumatic Ms Lara Bingle cooing "So, where the bloody hell are ya?", was a bit of a curate's egg for tourism authorities: while it worked well in some places, it went down like a lead balloon in others. Even the Pores, not known for their prudery in general (witness decades of 'Carry On' movies), took exception to the tone of the Aussie campaign, and billboard campaigns had to be ditched.

So, has it all turned a bit sour for the local tourist trade? Has the massive goodwill engendered by movies like 'Crocodile Dundee' and 'Priscilla' evaporated at the first sign of a global recession? Are our travel industry operators looking down a very long, bleak highway, with no sign of advancing hordes of money toting tourists on the horizon?

Well, according to figures released by Tourism Research Australia, things aren't nearly as bleak as the doomsayers would have us believe.

According to the latest International Visitor Survey (IVS), which covers the March 2008 quarter, overseas arrivals for the last 12 months were actually up by one percent on the previous year. Not quite the heady days of 2004, when figures jumped by nine percent, but in line with similar increases over the last three years.

And the money spent by those visitors was even more encouraging, jumping by eight percent.

Tourism Australia sees its challenge as being to encourage those travellers to stay here longer, to see more of the country and, of course, to spend a whole lot more.

As for that controversial ad campaign, Tourism Australia chooses to take the positive view. Managing Director Geoff Buckley acknowledges that it was better received in some markets than others--Asians in particular didn't see the joke, along with the suddenly-sensitive Brits--but all the same, it's noteworthy that Tourism Australia has just appointed a new agency to plan its next global campaign.

Mr Buckley says the new-look campaign will capitalise on the global release in November of the Baz Luhrmann movie 'Australia'.

"The movie ... offers huge potential to put Australia in the spotlight globally and ignite the Australia brand, to motivate millions of people who will see the movie to then see the country," Mr Buckley says.

So, the next time you see a news item about our latest international tourist campaign, forget bikini-clad nymphets and think--um, er--traditional Aussie images, of people, lifestyle and landscape.

"We know from our experience", says Geoff Buckley, "backed up by solid research, that this is what our target market of 'experience seekers' is looking for when they come to Australia."

Pity they didn't know that when they went for boobs and bloody Hell.
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Title Annotation:AUSTRALIA'S VANISHING TOURISTS?
Comment:So, where the bloody hell are they?
Author:Kaye, Sandy
Publication:Business Asia
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Aug 1, 2008
Words:566
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