Taking boom to next level
Let’s share the prosperity around, says Can-Seng Ooi, a pioneering place-branding scholar and tourism academic
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.