As the days get warmer and longer, you can almost smell the approaching contest.
The Poms are coming. And while Australia’s immediate concern will be whether our cricketers can win back the Ashes, the added bonus of staging the biggest event on the international cricket calendar is the extraordinary opportunity it will provide for our tourism industry.
According to the Barmy Army — the Poms’ fanatical travelling supporters’ group — as many as 30,000 English fans will visit Australia this summer.
Early this year, co-founder Dave Peacock said many travellers would spend as much as $25,000 each on their 51-day tours.
It is in our national interest to aim for a double victory by encouraging the Poms to leave as many of their hard-earned pounds behind as possible. Sports tourism is big business. It’s about jobs.
The last time Australia hosted the Ashes, in 2013-14, we recorded a clean sweep, thanks in no small part to player of the series Mitchell Johnson. But the victory was sweetened by the 14 per cent increase in the number of British tourists who visited that summer.
So as the 2017-18 summer approaches, our tourism industry needs to be gearing up to maximise the financial returns.
The Ashes gives locals a chance to see our team take on the Old Enemy, while international visitors get a taste of what Australia has to offer as they travel the country.
The challenge for our tourism operators is to make the most of the opportunity. Their task is to snare the travellers between fixtures to enjoy our broader tourism offerings. Authorities in Townsville are already planning to make the most of the tourism spinoffs from the warm-up match from November 15 to 18 between England and an Australian XI.
The aim is to entice the visitors to stick around and spend more money in the local economy and also encourage more of their family and friends to visit Australia.
Townsville Enterprise Tourism and Events director Bridget Woods said the city’s success in being named to host this match was nothing short of momentous. “The Barmy Army and other cricket fans will not only help ensure the city is booked out for the event, but they will be sending photos of themselves in our city via social media to the world,” she said.
In the same way here in Melbourne, Crown will hold a Christmas dinner on the eve of the Boxing Day Test — a match which will, as usual, be the best-attended match of the tour in our greatest sporting ground.
The Ashes also provide an opportunity to encourage dispersal of tourists outside the big cities so that our smaller communities can benefit from the influx of visitors.
For instance, Victoria’s stunning Mornington Peninsula is only an hour’s drive from Melbourne. Historic Ballarat is 90 minutes away. Both of those should be on the checklist for any international visitor in Melbourne for the Ashes.
The push to extract maximum benefit from the Ashes should not be seen as a one-off. The aim should be to use the Ashes, or other sporting events that attract visitors like the Australian Open tennis, to ensure the visitors enjoy themselves so much that they make return visits.
As the Australian economy continues to move out of the construction phase of the mining boom, we need to boost job creation in other industries.
That is where tourism comes in. Already identified by Deloitte Access Economics as one of five super growth sectors, tourism generates $97 billion in economic activity a year and supports at least one million jobs.
WE are already doing well. But we can do better. In regional Australia, in particular, tourism offers extraordinary potential for jobs growth.
There’s no shortage of imagination and innovation in Australian tourism, but it is important that governments at all levels understand its potential for growth and get behind the sector.
All Australians can help. We should welcome the Barmy Army with open arms, while cheering against their team. The historical links between the Britain and Australia will make that easy enough, as will the fact that the Barmy Army, while notoriously one-eyed, supports its team with a good-natured spirit that will guarantee a good time for all.
There’s no doubt the cheeky Poms will try to wind us up by, for example, singing You All Live in a Convict Colony (to the tune of Beatles’ Yellow Submarine).
They will also mercilessly ridicule Steve Smith, Dave Warner and the other Aussies until the last ball is bowled. But each night, they will spend their money in our hotels, restaurants and bars and support many thousands of Australian jobs.
Australia’s mission this summer is simple: show the Poms a good time, encourage them to return, take all their money and, above all, reclaim the Ashes.
ANTHONY ALBANESE IS THE SHADOW MINISTER FOR TOURISM