In the good years of international travel, Australia receives almost 9 million international visitors annually, the majority coming from China, New Zealand, the USA, UK, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and India.
But while international travellers generally visited to see Australia, only 35 per cent of Indian visitors came here to travel, with 53 per cent coming to see friends and family, while business, education and employment were given as other reasons. For those who visited to see friends and family, outings were generally day tours organised by their hosts, rather than venturing off to explore Australia independently or joining an organised tour.
As a tour guide based in Sydney, I get to meet many international travellers, mainly from the USA and UK, who prefer to join organised tours. During the short time I have with them, they tell me about their initial impressions of Australia.
So why do they choose to come here?
Surprisingly, they know little about Australia. They know that Nicole Kidman and Chris Hemsworth are Australian though many have an image that Australians are like the characters portrayed in the movie Crocodile Dundee, from the outback ready to wrestle snakes and crocodiles.
They think we are friendly and welcoming people and consider that it will be easy to travel around because we are English speaking and live a comparable lifestyle.
Many say it was on their bucket list and that it’s unlikely they will be back as the distance is too great.
What are they expecting to see?
They show far more interest in the culture and heritage of Australian Aboriginals than in the voyages of discovery and subsequent European settlement from 1788.
They want to see the Sydney Opera House, and engage with our wildlife – especially koalas and kangaroos – experience the outback, beaches and the Great Barrier Reef.
Few are aware of the enormity of Australia, the size of our coastal cities or the sparseness of the interior that few get to see.
What do they like the most?
Aboriginal dreamtime stories, interacting with our native animals, the Sydney Opera House, and our beaches.
What observations do they make?
- Our cities are much larger than expected and very impressive.
- Sydney has too much infrastructure work in progress and too many red lights that create traffic congestion.
- We have a lot of cyclists.
- People dress much more casually, few wear suits or dress up even to attend the opera.
- Cities are clean, lush and green and they are interested in our native plants, birds and animals.
- Our architecture is unique with broad wraparound verandahs and Victorian era houses with the addition of wrought iron balconies.
- There is a surprisingly high presence of international brands such as Starbucks, Aldi, McDonalds and KFC.
- People are self-reliant and this is a common cause for complaint as it relates to service. You have no choice but to do everything yourself – there are no porters to handle your luggage.
- Everything – but especially food – is very expensive and food portions are smaller.
- They are not aware that Australia is such a diverse multicultural country.
- They are interested in facts and figures that relate to real estate prices, the average wage, education system and cost of living especially petrol prices.
What they don’t do
They arrive unprepared for our climate – they don’t wear a hat or sunscreen and they don’t drink water. They ignore the flags designating patrolled sections on beaches.
They don’t sample our incredible wine and fresh produce and they don’t try our robust coffee. They underestimate the time needed to see Australia and they don’t stay long enough.
If I had to narrow down the absolute must-sees of Australia, the places that allow you to feel a sense of connection to our land, I would recommend the following:
- Our beaches are the most stunning and pristine in the world. From the rugged coastline along the Great Ocean Road, to Ningaloo and the Great Barrier Reef, Lord Howe and Kangaroo Island. For that quintessential beach experience that represents our relaxed lifestyle, head for Noosa, Manly or Cottesloe.
- To experience the outback, I’d choose the Ghan – love it! I’ve travelled on it 3 times. Also, the West MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs, Uluru, the Flinders Ranges and the Kimberley are all spectacular.
- For cities, my favourites are Melbourne for the gardens, quirky laneways and astonishingly good dining, Sydney for the world’s most stunning harbour and Adelaide, a low-key beautifully preserved historic city.
- To experience the best and freshest produce, head for the Adelaide Central Market in Adelaide and Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne. Visit the wineries of the Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Hunter Valley, Margaret River, Barossa, Clare Valley and McLaren Vale.
- For the best walks, there are so many from the Red Centre’s Larapinta walk to the Bay of Fires in Tasmania. And for typical Australian food, sample vegemite, pavlova, lamingtons and something from the barbie.
So when your friends and family next come to see you, you can start by saying what my friends at the Waradah Aboriginal Centre say to visitors – welcome to our country. And then show them around.
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