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The McGowan Government has made no secret of its desire to turn Western Australia into a tourist mecca, so there was an air of expectation last week as it announced its latest plan to woo interstate and international tourists.
Tourism Minister Paul Papalia declared WA would be pitched as “the road trip state“, in a bid to promote self-drive holiday routes across the state.
Those who have grown up in the west might have thought they had gone back in time to the 1980s, when such slogans were a common feature on car number plates.
That said, at least the new slogan was nowhere near the overreach of previous efforts like: “WA — state of excitement”.
On social media, some responded to the news of the new slogan by sharing pictures from Wolf Creek, an Australian horror film set in WA’s remote north.
The movie told the story of three road trippers who were taken captive and hunted by a deranged killer who initially offered to help them after they experienced car troubles.
For parents, the campaign may well trigger nightmares of tired and hungry children sitting in the back seat, repeatedly asking, “are we there yet?”
But plenty of West Australians enjoy a road trip to the many beautiful and unique spots around the state, and it makes sense to encourage tourists to enjoy the same experiences.
Trading glitz and glamour for the open road
WA’s size and the tyranny of distance have long been seen as negatives when marketing the state as a tourist destination, but Mr Papalia is hoping to turn that around.
“This will take what might have been viewed in the past as our greatest weakness — vast distances and sparse population — and turn that into our greatest strength,” he said.
“It’s not glitzy, it’s not Las Vegas, it’s a special part of the world.
“When you get out of Perth and you get into those regional areas, you encounter something that you’re not going to meet in many other places.”
The campaign will specifically target nine international markets — Singapore, Malaysia, China, Germany, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand and Indonesia.
Campaign raises road safety fears
But while most welcomed the campaign for promoting the regions, others voiced concerns about encouraging international tourists unfamiliar with WA’s road conditions to jump in a car and travel long distances.
One of WA’s largest tourism transport operators, Adam Barnard, knows first-hand the safety risk overseas tourists pose on WA’s roads.
He is the managing director of one of WA’s biggest coach tour companies and one of his buses was recently hit head-on by a car driven by a Chinese tourist on Indian Ocean Drive.
Mr Barnard said the problem was of increasing concern, particularly with tourists not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.
“China is our major source market now for Western Australia, it’s growing quite rapidly, but it’s the first real major source market that does drive on the right-hand side of the road,” he said.
“Since that accident, I’ve had a lot of feedback from businesses in the Margaret River region in particular to say that the problem is almost out of control with these hire cars, and particularly those ones that are not used to driving on the left-hand side of the road.”
Mr Barnard admitted he was open to accusations of self interest, but said it was time for WA’s tourism chiefs to do more to promote coach tours as a more viable and safe option for international tourists to explore the regions.
Mr Papalia batted away the road safety concerns, saying far more West Australians crashed on the wrong side of the road than foreigners.
Concerns were also raised about the high cost of going on a road trip in WA, but given the exorbitant airfares charged to visit many of the state’s regional areas, driving would often be the cheaper option.
Off the beaten track
Opposition tourism spokeswoman Libby Mettam said she was glad there was finally a campaign that focused on more than just Perth, as was the case with the previous push.
“The countries that we are targeting here on average only spend one night out of the capital city so this is at least a push in trying to promote that further,” she said.
But Ms Mettam had concerns that selling long-distance travel as “road trips” could be potentially misleading.
“Driving to Kununurra for example is certainly not a road trip,” she said.
“When you look at some of the countries being targeted, a two-hour drive could take you across their entire country. That’s not even going to take you to Busselton.”
The reality is the booklet that accompanies the campaign suggests a range of road trip options for tourists, everything from one-day journeys out to the Swan Valley to those that require a four wheel drive and a longer time commitment to get well and truly off the beaten track.
Tourists are able to plan a trip that suits their budget and desired level of challenge.
The allure of a digital detox
There’s a lot to be said for a good road trip.
It has the capacity to help you to re-connect with loved ones. On the other hand, all those hours in a car together can be a catalyst for the demise of a rocky relationship.
Road trips can also provide a much-needed chance to re-connect with yourself, with nature, and to digitally disconnect if you are lucky enough to be out of range.
But if the campaign does not succeed in luring more tourists to our vast state, those who devised it may well be asked “where the bloody hell are they?”, while the taxpayers who paid for it will likely think it is #justanotherdayinwa.