At this time of year, it is hard to dispute Melbourne’s claim to be the sporting capital of Australia.
During summer, events such as the Boxing Day Test and the Australian Open capture the attentions of millions of Australians, as well as of sport fans across the globe.
While sport provides great entertainment, it’s also important to acknowledge Melbourne’s success in linking sport to tourism, creating tens of thousands of jobs.
Other Australian cities would do well to emulate its efforts.
Roy Morgan Research shows 12.8 per cent of people who visit Melbourne take in a sporting event — twice as many as those who visit Sydney and nearly three times more than visitors to Brisbane. Indeed, about 15 per cent of visitors interviewed in one survey said their only reason for coming to Melbourne was to attend a sporting event.
All those visitors also check out the city’s other offerings, creating jobs in restaurants, bars and shops.
For example, during the Australian Open — beginning today — hundreds of the world’s top players and their support teams are in town, along with more than 650 journalists and broadcasters. Up to 700,000 people will attend the event, many from out of town.
And that’s just the tennis. When you add the AFL, the Boxing Day Test, the Spring Racing Carnival, the Formula One Grand Prix and Phillip Island’s Motorcycle Grand Prix, you start to get an idea of the importance of sport to the Victorian economy.
Melbourne stands as the perfect example of a city that knows what it is good at and has turned that strength into a huge creator of jobs.
Much credit is due to clever marketing by tourism authorities and state governments of all political colours, who realised long ago that their city’s love of sport should be turned into an industry.
But I give most credit to the people of Melbourne, who don’t just watch sport in lounge rooms or pubs, but flock to sporting events in huge numbers.
The weight of spectator numbers creates great atmosphere, which in turn attracts more spectators.
That is why millions of Australian sport fans, wherever they hail from, tell each other in pubs and coffee shops that whatever they do, one day they will attend a Melbourne Cup or an AFL Grand Final.
Melbourne’s stunning success in sports-related tourism provides a great example for the rest of Australia at a time at a time when our economy is in transition. As the economy continues to move out of the construction phase of the mining boom, we need to lift job creation in other industries to maintain our quality of life.
Tourism holds huge potential for jobs growth, as long as we think strategically.
Not all communities have a tennis major, a Great Barrier Reef, a Sydney Harbour, or some other stunning natural attraction to draw visitors.
But it’s possible to get around that if you think outside the square.
The NSW city of Parkes, for example, has created an annual tourism boom with its Elvis Festival every January, which attracts more than 20,000 visitors. The innovation is replicated by the extraordinary silo art trail which will encourage year-round tourism through Victoria’s wheatbelt.
Tourism strategies can also be crafted around music and arts festivals.
Wine-growing regions have taken to doubling as venues for international music acts.
In 2017, governments at all levels must work hard with communities to identify and unlock these opportunities, not just in the cities but also across rural and regional Australia.
Australia is already good at tourism. But we can be even better.
Melbourne provides the perfect template.
This piece was first published in the Herald Sun on Monday, 16 January 2017: http://bit.ly/2iXYzjS
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.