real life

Oprah's been, Ellen came, so why is Australia still such a hard sell?

Is it unAustralian to holiday overseas?

By KATE HUNTER

I’m lucky.

For all sorts of reasons, I’ve been travelling a bit over the last 2 years. With kids, without kids, with husb, with sisters and girlfriends, and solo. Sometimes I’ve travelled as a guest but mostly it’s been on our own dime.

I’ve done a family driving holiday through four Aussie states,  lived it up in New York City, flopped on a Vanuatu beach, walked New Zealand’s Milford track, bumbled down the Victorian ski slopes and camped beside Queensland creeks.

It’s made me think a lot about how we choose where we travel and why.

Money’s a major deciding factor, together with time. Overseas travel has never been more popular thanks to a (still) strong Australian dollar and international airfares cheaper than a Sydney ferry ride. But I always feel kind of guilty when I choose to head offshore when there’s so much of Australia I haven’t seen.

I feel bad (not bad enough to not go) when I lap up the service provided by  people I know are on a tiny wage. I know I should spend my dollars here and that our beaches are fab and our cities sparkle but why, when we have the choice, do so many Australians head offshore at the first opportunity?

And why is it so hard to sell Australia to ourselves and overseas?

Is it the distance, the exchange rate, our difficult-to-define culture? Some writers (I’m looking at you here, The Courier Mail) like to blame our congested airports. Seriously?

Has anyone ever, in the history of the world said, ‘Hmm, no, I won’t go to Paris because the Charles de Gaulle  is CHAOTIC?’ No. No they haven’t.

Kate’s daughter jumping into the mighty Murray river.

I thought about it a lot when I was in the USA earlier this month. So many Americans I chatted with said how much they’d love to visit Australia but said it was ‘too far, too expensive and altogether too hard.’

They were confused about how they’d get around, what they’d do, who they’d meet and what they’d see.

But here’s what I found weird: they were ALL OVER New Zealand. They know all about it and and seemed much keener to get there. Australia was the optional side trip. HUH? New Zealand is almost as far away as we are, just as expensive and offers arguably less.

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Thanks to The Lord Of The Rings, and marketing brilliance of the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign, visitors to those  rainy, shaky islands know exactly what they’re going to get –  lungfuls of pristine air, snowcapped mountain overload and roads jammed with sheep. It’s magical, mythical stuff and the world can’t get enough of it.

What does Australia offer? How can we sum it up?  There’s a fabulous reef and a big red rock, cool cities and charming towns. But they’re a zillion miles apart. Let’s be honest, there are cities and reefs and rocks more conveniently located to the big markets of the USA, China and Europe.

So maybe the solution is us – Australia’s people.

People love Australians.

What does that mean, exactly? In the eighties it meant Paul Hogan putting a shrimp on the Barbie. Thirty years later it was Lara Bingle asking, ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’

Hoges worked, Lara bombed, and since then, the selling of Australia has seemed disjointed and defensive. Baz Lurhman’s ‘Australia’ was meant to be our Lord Of The Rings,  but ended up being a mildly entertaining Hugh Jackman perv.

What to do?

Hamish and Andy’s Australian Experience. Can’t you see it?

Last night, watching Hamish and Andy’s Asian Gap Year, I thought maybe those boys (why do I say boys? they’re men in their thirties) are the solution. Funny, charming, irreverent.

They’re well travelled, curious and handsome. They sound Australian but they’re not bogan. Can’t you see it? Hamish and Andy’s Australian Experience.

But much as I love them, plenty don’t – and there’s the problem. Everyone wants a say in how Australia gets sold to the world so even the cleverest people are gun-shy.

In the Hoges days, marketing decisions were made by a very small group of people. Wider opinion wasn’t sought, pre-testing wasn’t done. A big idea, a few meetings, a gut feel and it was done.

Of course it’s not just the ads, or the airports, or the exchange rate. It’s a bizarre cocktail that’s impossible to get right. Yet New Zealand has done it. So why the bloody hell can’t we?

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