Tak­ing boom to next level

Let’s share the pros­per­ity around, says Can-Seng Ooi, a pi­o­neer­ing place-brand­ing scholar and tourism aca­demic

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWS -

Tourists are easy whip­ping boys, but lay off them, says so­ci­ol­o­gist and an­thro­pol­o­gist Can-Seng Ooi. Our pres­sure points are not their fault.

It is a fail­ure of lead­er­ship in plan­ning and com­mu­ni­cat­ing that is to blame, says the Univer­sity of Tas­ma­nia’s Pro­fes­sor in Cul­tural and Her­itage Tourism.

“We need to be for­ward­think­ing to en­sure that in­fras­truc­ture and ca­pac­ity im­prove at the same rate as tourism num­bers.”

Can-Seng be­lieves most tourists who come to Tas­ma­nia - about 1.3 mil­lion an­nu­ally - want to do the right thing. “If some­thing is not good for the community, ‘tell us we shouldn’t do it or don’t al­low us to go there’. It’s as sim­ple as that.”

In­stead, he says, in­no­cent vis­i­tors are crit­i­cised for our hous­ing short­ages, hotspot over­crowd­ing and ev­ery­thing else that gets in our way.

At­tempt­ing to dis­perse vis­i­tors re­gion­ally with­out up­grad­ing roads, car parks, fresh­wa­ter, sew­er­age sys­tems and other public fa­cil­i­ties ac­cord­ingly will not work for tourists or lo­cals.

“The next ques­tion is where the re­sources and fund­ing for up­grades should come from,” says Can-Seng. “That is where the dis­tri­bu­tion of ben­e­fits comes in.”

He sug­gests se­ri­ous ex­plo­ration of op­tions in­clud­ing an in­di­rect tourist tax and en­force­able un­der­tak­ings by de­vel­op­ers to give back to the lo­cal community in tan­gi­ble ways.

“If there is a big tourism devel­op­ment, OK, you must also build 2000 toi­lets or what­ever.”

Though Can-Seng vol­un­teers this in­flated num­ber with a laugh, the former Copen­hagen Busi­ness School pro­fes­sor is se­ri­ous in call­ing for strate­gies to lever­age the great­est community ben­e­fit from the state’s tourism econ­omy.

He doesn’t mean just sea­sonal jobs for lo­cals, even as the low sea­son shrinks year on year. Ben­e­fits can come in var­i­ous forms, in­clud­ing greater use of tourism re­sources for ed­u­ca­tion.

If the state is to tackle so­cio­cul­tural sus­tain­abil­ity and a path of bal­anced tourism devel­op­ment, we need a mas­ter plan, trust in the sys­tem and a community-first ethos, he says.

“To sup­port the lo­cal community with­out de­stroy­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, it should not be a piece­meal strat­egy.”

He thinks he un­der­stands why flash­points, such as the cur­rent one over a pro­posed he­li­copter-ac­cessed stand­ing camp at Lake Mal­bena in the Tas­ma­nian Wilder­ness World Her­itage, keep flar­ing.

“I would say we need to re­spect a grand mas­ter plan,” he says. “If we say [some­thing] should not be touched, it should not be touched.

“If you want to sac­ri­fice Mal­bena [to fur­ther devel­op­ment], you need to [first] ask how will it con­trib­ute to the whole community.”

Can-Seng does not think the broader community will see much ben­e­fit from many of the com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ments into pro­tected ar­eas en­abled by the Hodg­man Gov­ern­ment.

“Hav­ing a few wealthy tourists is not re­ally help­ing the lo­cal community, it is help­ing the com­pany,” he says.

He de­scribes the oft-quoted “yield over vol­ume” tourism strat­egy as ex­tremely su­per­fi­cial and un­so­phis­ti­cated.

“For ex­am­ple, I do spend a lot of money on cer­tain things,” says the Sin­ga­porean-born aca­demic, who cel­e­brates three years living in Tas­ma­nia this week.

“I like my wine and my cheese and I will pay a lot more for them, but I won’t pay more for other things.

“When we talk about high­yield­ing tourists, we need to ask our­selves what it is they want to pay a lot more for. Dif­fer­ent cul­tures are spend­ing in dif­fer­ent ways. I don’t see that lay­ered, nu­anced dis­cus­sion here. When I hear we are build­ing for high­yield­ing tourists, I think which one are you talk­ing about?”

Can-Seng sees great po­ten­tial in the busi­ness and events travel and tourism mar­ket in Tas­ma­nia.

“Peo­ple want rel­e­vant, at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tions to do busi­ness and there is fan­tas­tic po­ten­tial here.”

To or­der a free PDF copy of Tourism in Tas­ma­nia coedited by Can-Seng Ooi and Anne Hardy and re­leased last week, or to find out more about a new UTAS Mas­ters in Tourism, En­vi­ron­men­tal and Cul­tural Her­itage launch­ing next year, visit utas.edu.au/ tourism. Hard copies of the book are avail­able at lo­cal book­stores.

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