Australia does tourism well. Australia could do tourism so much better.
When you arrive at the Nadi Airport in Fiji, you are greeted by smiling locals in grass skirts playing traditional tunes on a brightly-colored ukulele. The cheery chant of “bula” (meaning hello) reverberates from every corner of the some-what dated airport and from every friendly local Fijian you encounter throughout the duration of your stay.
You ride in a ‘bula bus’ (an open-sided truck/bus), the locals hug your children and during your hotel check in, no fewer than six Fijians in traditional dress greet you, serenade you with song, collect your luggage, hand you bottles of chilled Fijian water and introduce your children to their own special hotel hero, as well as their own resort-specific passport.
Let’s compare this experience to a recent arrival at the Melbourne International Airport. The first greeting is from a stern uniform-clad official that threatens to fine you for talking on your mobile phone. You then proceed to a customs queue that for non-Australian passport holders extends far beyond 200m back up the terminal.
Visitors, who have chosen Australia over endless other international destinations to holiday and/or do business, are kept waiting for up to an hour while a burly and grumpy “guard” with Honours in a Bachelor of Failing to be Friendly struts past.
Globally, Australia is recognised for being a nation of larrikins that are laid-back, beach-going and friendly fellas. Our coastline, rainforests, deserts, farm land, cities and natural attractions are the envy of the world.
So why have we forgotten our basic manners in how to meet, greet and show appreciation to our visitors?
Let’s look at the signs posted on the walls of our airports, train stations and bus terminals. Are they lists of rules, regulations and threatening fines? Or are they cheeky Australianisms that convey serious messages in a more colloquial style?
Why can’t we all adopt the Fijian approach and have all Australians saying “G’day mate” when they greet every visitor – whether at an airport, in the street, at our tourism attractions or in restaurants?
Why can’t we have a proud Indigenous Australian playing the digeridoo in our international terminals to greet all travellers?
Why can’t we rely on the infamous Aussie sense of humor to bring back the fun for all?
Tourism consultants are being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to conjure crafty campaigns costing millions of dollars to promote Australia to the world.
This “Be Australian” campaign costs $0. It’s all about harnessing every Australian to be Australian – friendly, helpful, interactive, fun and sharing endless “G’day mates”!
More than 45,000 people volunteered at the 2000 Sydney Olympics to authenticate the event with local characters and true Aussie warmth. Imagine if all 24.64 million Australians joined the “G’day mate” bandwagon to love and laugh with tourists, but also locals.
During a recent outback journey across the Oodnadatta Track in South Australia, a creative Aussie had added a word to all the “DIP” roadsigns – placed to indicate an upcoming drop in the dusty track. There’s “Cheese and Dip”; “Diploma”; “Dipstick” and “Skinny Dip” to name a few. We laughed and laughed as a family, eagerly awaiting the next road sign to appreciate the Aussie humour.
No doubt there is some un-Australian bureaucrat looking to replace those signs and the “graffiti” that has distorted the warning – “Diphead”! However, in this case, we were more likely to read and heed the warning due to the fun injected.
When did we start taking ourselves too seriously?
Why do we worry more about litigious action than lauded laughter?
Let’s all focus on getting back to basics, engaging all Australians and ensuring we create an authentic experience purely by sharing our culture and quirkiness with all who choose to visit our lucky country. Let’s be “real Aussies”!
- Sarah Hirst is the owner of Leaning Church Vineyard, investor in Lilydale Larder and communications specialist