The land of the Big Banana


Tourism has been discovered by our politicians. We have finally ‘found ourselves’ and now we want the world to find us too. Crocodile Dundee (the real name of screen character Paul Hogan) has exhorted us to “Smile and say g’day” to foreigners who come to our shores. Economists have waxed lyrical about the potential for profits and job creation that lie in the tourist industry.

Is tourism to be the saviour of the Australian economy?

Some Christian tourists to countries like Fiji, Thailand and Indonesia feel guilty about the standard (or should that be double-standard) of tourist life. There seem to be two quite separate economies in operation: one for the tourist, with luxury, five-star hotels; and the other for the locals, who live in squalid villages. It’s almost enough to put you off your lobster mornay and banana daiquiri! Better to avoid the squalid villages, except for the occasional bargain-hunting expedition.

Yes, there is something uncomfortable or slightly voyeuristic about touring through other people’s poverty. It seems selfish or immoral to enjoy the beautiful beaches of someone else’s underdeveloped country.

What, you might ask, have primitive Fijian villages got to do with Australia’s tourist boom?

You can’t get on to Moore Park Public Golf Course these days without an appointment. The private clubs have raised their visitor’s fees to discourage the tourists who are clogging up their courses. The poor man who enjoys his game of golf cannot afford the private clubs and now cannot get onto the public courses because of the tourists.

Nowadays, who can afford a Palm Beach holiday? It has always been a bit upmarket, but with the influx of tourists, flush with their buoyant currency, Palm Beach is now a playground of the superrich.

Thanks to the tourists we have more city restaurants than ever, with a wider range of cuisine. Thanks also to the tourists we can’t afford to eat at them.

Is the tourist dollar worth having? When the stock market tumbles in Tokyo, London or New York, will our tourist economy survive? It is a fragile industry, balanced precariously on the wealth of others. It is a sophisticated way of selling the family farm, denying ourselves the very beauty of the country we call home for the sake of a few fast dollars.

International drive and entrepreneurial initiative are important for the future for our economy. But let us create wealth, rather than trying to fleece the rich tourist. Let us use our resources, labour and technology to develop new products, rather than accepting the quick cash of the tourist bubble.

And you can guess who suffers most— the Little Australian, who can no longer afford his favourite golf course, beach or restaurant. The Little Australian who, in service of the rich tourists, is forced into the squalor of second-class suburbia.

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