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Views on agents and tourism from way back when

October 30, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

This year marks 50 years of promoting Australian tourism overseas. A few observations on travel agents and on tourism from 1967, the year the Australian Tourist Commission was set up, make amusing reading.

As Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo, pointed out in Surfers Paradise yesterday while commemorating the tourism anniversary, it was in 1966 that Australia’s Prime Minister Harold Holt advocated setting up the Australian Tourism Commission (ATC), forerunner of Tourism Australia. (More on the anniversary here: Cheers! Oz tourism turns 50 – and this is how it looked)

Holt put forward the idea in his election campaign of that year. He saw his dream become a reality before he mysteriously disappeared on 17 December 1967 while swimming at Cheviot Beach near Portsea, Victoria. Holt is believed to have drowned or to have been taken by a shark, though a few conspiracy theorists suggested he might have boarded a Chinese or Soviet submarine and sailed away.

Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt (right) with Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ), the first US president to visit Australia, and First Lady Ladybird Johnson in October 1966, the year Holt proposed the Australian Tourism Commission be set up.

How were travel agents and tourism potential seen in those days? The following brief extracts are taken from speeches in Australian Parliament in 1967 during debates on setting up the Australian Tourist Commission, which years later became Tourism Australia.

One MP, Kay Brownbill (Liberal) from South Australia, made her maiden speech on the subject of tourism. As well as being a parliamentarian, Brownbill was a journalist, broadcaster, public relations professional, playwright, publicist and scriptwriter. Here’s a brief extract from her speech:

“Surely the tourist must be about the most angled-for type of customer. For instance, he is assailed by posters and bombarded by brochures telling him to go to the sunshine of Spain before he dies in the discomfort of the snow somewhere else. At the same time he is told that he must go out into the snow of Switzerland to get away from the dangers of the sun in Spain. This latter exhortation came no doubt at a time when the rain in Spain was not falling mainly in the plain. 

“Everybody tugs and pulls at this precious customer with money in his pocket to spend. It is a wonder that he ever arrives in any country in one piece, but usually he does. Usually it is found that in his ultimate decision he has been influenced to a very large degree by a travel agent. This Bill acknowledges the importance of travel agencies and the travel industry itself.”

Kay Brownbill MP

Another MP, Gordon Bryant (ALP), said the principal travellers in 1967 seemed to be “young Australians and elderly Americans”.

“Planning an itinerary in Australia is not easy. I suggest that we give away the idea of promoting air travel. Airline companies book travellers into the most expensive hotels in capital after capital. They say it is only for one night, but at the end of the trip the traveller has stayed in expensive hotels for thirty or forty nights, usually at an extra cost of $4 or $5 a night. 

“We must do something to induce people to travel on the ground, because it is there that one can meet people. We must be wary of the travel agent who is not concerned about cheap travel.”

Tourist promotion in mid-1960s. Surfers Paradise meter maid

Bryant went on to say:

“When I was in London in 1964, a film was being shown about the airport. The viewer was shown all the glamour of magnificent airliners flying everywhere. Scenes were shown of the services run by Air India and of glamorous air hostesses in saris, of Pan American Airways, very well turned out and bang on, of KLM Airlines, Air France, and Airlines of Japan. They were shown in all their glamour and glory. 

“Then we were shown scenes of a Qantas Empire Airways Ltd aeroplane taking off with a plane full of migrants. The film also showed a crowd of people – mothers, grandmothers, nieces, sisters and sweethearts – seeing the migrants off, shedding tears and, as the aircraft faded into the distance to the strains of ‘Waltzing Matilda’, people were saying: ‘They have gone to Australia. We will never see them again.’ A press report of about three years ago clearly shows that many people throughout the world think this way.” 

And finally a vision of the future from MP John Armstrong (ALP):

“Last year [1966] we had more than 200,000 visitors and it is expected that by the 1970s three times that number will be arriving each year. By then airline travel will have reached its peak; and people travelling in supersonic aircraft will cut down their travelling time by at least one half. The return from tourism in 1965-66 was $60 million, and it is expected that this will increase to at least $200 million by 1975. This is a great contribution to our economic structure. Honourable members will appreciate from these figures what great benefits can be derived from tourism.” 

Written by Peter Needham

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