23 May 2021

Time for the ACT to redefine itself as domestic tourism takes off

| Ian Bushnell
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Jamala Wildlife Lodge

Jamala Wildlife Lodge is a great example of tourism innovation in Canberra. Photo: Jamala.

Things are literally looking up for the Canberra region tourism industry and local folk with itchy feet.

Rex’s foray into the domestic aviation market continued last week with the announcement of flights to Melbourne, starting from $69 and following on from its Sydney route offer.

The regional carrier is making a big play for Qantas and Virgin customers, sparking a price war that can only benefit travellers, if it can be sustained.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says this, plus a range of other regional destinations with other carriers as far away as Cairns, means Canberra has never been so well connected.

He’s hoping that will soon include Auckland and Wellington as he prepares for his New Zealand expedition this week.

READ MORE Barr confident of summer NZ flights ahead of pitch across the ditch

For Canberra travellers, more connections and the prospect of cheaper flights, at least on the key Sydney and Melbourne routes, mean escape from the COVID isolation of the past 18 months is more possible, if one accepts the risk that a stray case may leave you stranded or your plans in tatters.

But that’s a risk that should diminish with the vaccine rollout, frustratingly slow though that may be.

NZ will offer the chance for some to exercise their passports again and take in the magic of Middle Earth.

For Mr Barr, it’s the inbound flights that really matter, and the tourist and business travellers they will bring to the national capital region.

The signs are that Canberra is again on the destinations list, with hotel occupancy rates heading in the right direction.

And with Floriade back this year, the rebound should continue.

But simply returning to the pre-COVID format is not on the sector’s or the government’s mind as they look to attractions innovating and expanding Canberra’s offering.

There is no denying the value of the national cultural institutions, especially the National Gallery, Questacon and even the Canberra market, but visitors are looking for multiple reasons to spend time here.

The word is already out that the region has fine food and terrific wine, and attractions that can combine offerings such as the National Zoo and Aquarium, which is having great success with its Jamala Wildlife Lodge operation, will do well.

READ MORE National Arboretum to host Reconciliation Day events

Canberra’s natural environment is one of its greatest assets, which is why the National Arboretum has become one of the city’s most popular attractions, but this also points the way to more undeveloped pursuits such as mountain biking, which has been identified as having great potential.

The opportunity is there to package a range of experiences that range from high art to high times in Canberra’s pristine places, capitalising on the region’s easy accessibility.

Australians are travelling again, seeing more of their own country rather than heading overseas.

The national capital is well placed to capture a great portion of that. Now is the time to rethink what Canberra means and present a new face to the nation that represents all that is great about living here.

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