Still Driving Australia’s Tourism Economy But Times Changing

Hume Highway signDrive holidays seem have been forgotten in the frenzy by Australians to fly to their destination, either here or overseas.

But the reality is that, despite the lack of hype, road trips are far from dead with Tourism Research Australia estimating that 71 per cent of domestic overnight trips still involve a car.

So fair to say that getting in the car and driving somewhere is at the very heart of the Australian regional tourism economy. Yet road trips and drive holidays are undergoing rapid change.

Better cars and roads allow people to get where they are going faster and with fewer stops.

And this is having is a significant impact on many towns and villages that depend on travelers for their economic survival.

Let me explain by way of personal example

For me the road trip was part of growing up, a series of the best memories I’ve ever had: dad, brother, car, dog, catamaran, surfboard, bikes, Pacific Highway…

The trip inevitably started in heavy traffic and it seemed like hours before we even reached Sydney’s northern edge.

Then there was the ritual stop at a milk bar we called ‘stack ‘em up Joe’s” thanks to the towering towers of Violet Crumbles and Polly Waffles created by the Greek proprietor.

We always took two days to reach the Gold Coast and stayed in a motel en-route somewhere like Kempsey or Coffs Harbour, muffling the dog while breakfast came on a tray in through the hatch.

Same routine on the way back, endless driving, stuck behind caravans, with dad and every other driver praying for the day when they improved the road.

Each year our family was good for two night’s accommodation, several tanks of petrol, two slap up dinners, numerous hamburgers, milkshakes and chocolate bars – and that was before we had even reached our ultimate destination.

In today’s dollars, you’d be talking around $800 on the road there and back going to local motels, service stations, milk bars, pubs and restaurants.

Now I drive a similar distance to Melbourne down the Hume Highway at least once a year with my own family to visit the in-laws, most recently this Christmas.

Total spend would be $300 tops.

Like so many others, we do it in a single burst with the journey taking around 10 hours, flashing past towns and villages that resonate in Australian history.

Not so long ago drivers would have had to go through them all, large small and everything in-between.

But over the past few years these small towns and hamlets have been literally disappearing from the Hume Highway.

A series of new bypasses allow motorists to speed past with the air conditioning on at 110km/h.

Blink and you’ll miss them.

Tarcutta, population 440, is the most recent domino to fall with the Hume bypass opening less than two months ago.

It is the first time since Thomas Mate opened an inn and store on the track between Sydney and Melbourne in 1837 that Tarcutta has been excluded from the highway trade.

The economic impact has been devastating for some local businesses.

According to a story in the Wagga Daily Advertiser, takings at the Tarcutta Caltex Fast Food are down by more than 50 per cent since the $225 million bypass opened.

Owner and manager Jenny Cesnik admits: “We’re battling”, adding that Christmas Eve takings were $21,000 this year compared with $47,000 on the same day in 2010.

The upside is that Tarcutta is now a nicer place with hardly any traffic and a $1.3 million grant to beautify the town.

However, there will never again be the same tourism dollars flowing through the economy of Tarcutta.

By 2013 the same fate will befall Holbrook, south of Tarcutta, the final town to be bypassed on the Hume between Sydney and Melbourne.

It will mean a faster trip but one not without casualties.

ends

This story was orginally published in The Weekend Australian

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