For the past 25 years, the economy of the Fifth Continent has been growing rapidly. The boom has also spurred the tourism sector Down Under, which is benefiting both from the Australians' love of travel as well as from the growing popularity of the country around the world. The number of "Aussies" who set out for Europe is likely to rise significantly in the coming years.
text: Michael Braun Alexander // photography: Richard Wainwright
However, it is by no means a matter of course that Perth of all places is experiencing a boom in tourism: Australia's west-coast metropolis, which is approximately the same size as Munich, is the loneliest, most remote major city in the world. The next city in the ranking, Adelaide, is situated 2,133 kilometres to the east as the crow flies. That is like as if only a few little towns and petrol stations came between Munich and way the other side of Ankara. However, this geographic isolation is not putting visitors off – quite the opposite. "We are experiencing our heyday in Perth," says Anneke Brown, General Manager at the Como The Treasury luxury hotel, which opened at the end of 2015. The Australian Wild West is currently experiencing its golden age.
No one expected something like this to happen. Because after Western Australia and Perth were able to profit immensely from a commodities boom for a long time after the turn of the millennium, prices have recently collapsed, putting a brake on the economy. "In the past ten to twelve years, the commodities industry dominated," Como manager Brown recounts, "the hotels were full of businesspeople." Today, in contrast, the trend is clearly moving "away from business and towards leisure."
Perth is becoming a tourist attraction, not just for Australians, but also for visitors from Singapore, Hong Kong or Malaysia. The number of Chinese guests, according to Brown, is experiencing "dramatic growth". Perth is positioning itself as the "Gateway to Australia", in the opinion of Andrew Cairns, Executive General Manager at the three Crown Hotels in Perth.
Looking at a map of the country, this is an understandable approach, because the city is located several thousand kilometres closer to Asia and Europe than either Sydney or Melbourne, Australia's two largest cities. Six new hotels recently opened on the Indian Ocean; a further 14 are under construction or in the pipeline, for example by Westin (Starwood), Ritz-Carlton (Marriott) and Double Tree (Hilton). Brown speaks of "more than 2,000 new rooms in the next three years." In December the Crown Towers with 500 rooms and "six stars" is set to open.
The economy is booming in the eastern half of the sixth-largest state worldwide too. In the past years, the Fifth Continent has developed into one of the most successful and prosperous countries in the world. Although the decline in commodity prices has weakened Australia's economy, it has not plunged it into despair. The country is extraordinarily rich in resources and one of the largest producers of coal, iron ore, gold and diamonds worldwide. It delivers these commodities predominantly to Asia's boom markets, especially to China. The close interdependence with Asia is also the main reason that the Australian economy has not experienced any more recessions since 1991, not even as a result of the global financial crisis in the years 2008-2009 – an impressive long-term performance with which no other G-20 country can keep pace. Despite its low population figures, Australia currently constitutes the twelfth-largest economy in the world.
With a population density of three inhabitants per square kilometre, however, it is extremely sparsely populated. The vast majority of the continent is covered with desert, semi-desert or (in the most northerly regions) impenetrable jungle: the Outback, which spans three major time zones and is to a large extent uninhabited. Ninety percent of all "Aussies" live in an urban environment. Taken together, the five megacities of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide account for around two-thirds of the total population.
And these megacities also have a lot to offer in terms of quality. In an analysis carried out every year by British economic magazine "The Economist", Australia's major cities perform better than those of any other country in terms of quality of life. Currently, four Australian cities are among the top ten in the world. Melbourne is in first place; Adelaide, Sydney and Perth rank in fifth to eighth clap respectively.
While the "Country in the south", formerly known as "terra australis" is extremely well endowed with regard to infrastructure, healthcare, education system as well as law and order, political stability has taken a bit of a beating. Like in Europe, immigration is currently one of the emotive topics in politics and society. Since its "discovery" by the Dutch and the British, Australia has been a country of immigrants. In the past 100 years, the population has more than quadrupled – to around 24 million. Just since 2010, more than 1 million immigrants entered the country, most of them from Asia and Oceania, and the population is set to swell to between 40 million and 50 million by 2050.
Sydney and Melbourne, the country's two leading metropolises, each with a population of more than 4 million, are at the same time also the most important hotel locations, with currently around 40,000 and 30,000 rooms respectively. The number of beds available in the eastern half of the country is growing slowly, but constantly. Apart from leading international hospitality companies, numerous domestic hotel companies have also established themselves here. Large hotel industry names include for example the Mantra Group, which runs 125 hotels (under the brand names Break Free, Mantra and Peppers), Metro and Voyages. According to estimates of market research company STR Global, the average daily rate countrywide is around US$141, with the highest tariffs achieved in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Around the globe, Australia is constantly in appeal as a destination. In the past 12 months, 7.8 million international guests travelled to the Fifth Continent, according to figures provided by the tourist authority there (As of: May 2016), almost 10 percent more than in the previous year.
But the Australians themselves, who are famous anyway for being cosmopolitan globetrotters, are more mobile than ever before. Every year, they take around 10 million foreign trips, according to estimates of the Australian statistics office, around twice as many as 10 years ago. By 2023, this figure will likely have grown by 20 percent. Their preferred travel destinations are currently the neighbouring countries of New Zealand (13 percent) and Indonesia (12 percent), followed by the United States (11 percent), the United Kingdom and Thailand (6 percent each).