Tourism defies the AI trend in Australia, as jobs grow fast. Where’s Canberra?

Tourism jobs continued to trend sharply upwards, up by over 6% year-on-year for the Sep-2017 quarter. The “Accommodation and food services” category has become the third largest employment sector in Australia, according to ABS data released today. This is one area where artificial intelligence won’t be making major inroads.

The ABS does not actually break out tourism as a category and if the true flow through were allocated to tourist expenditures it would be much, much larger. For example, buried in “Retail trade” is the jobs created as a result of the several billion dollars spent by foreign tourists; “Transport etc” likewise includes a vast number of surface and air trips creating thousands of jobs in airlines, taxis, car hire as well as cruise ships; “Construction” covers many facets of tourism driven infrastructure. In fact, many of the job categories are strongly reinforced directly by tourism.

Source: ABS

So where is tourism on the political agenda?

As Australia transitions to becoming a major tourism destination, major rethinks in national strategy are becoming necessary. But they’re not happening.

Political leaders, who are much happier being wined and dined (and lobbied) by big business and unions, rarely give more than token attention to the tourism industry. Contrast “Mining” for example, which employs a relatively tiny part of the workforce, tourism is a major and fast growing employer. Yet the mining lobby is massively powerful in Canberra.

Certainly, mining contributes a lot to export values, but given most large mining organisations are owned mainly by foreign interests, much of those export dollar numbers are heavily diluted.

In most cases, tourism value is kept on the ground in Australia and tourism – both domestic and inbound international – will be the secure job source for the future. With its personal skills needs mostly immunised from replacement by Artificial Intelligence, it has a much more secure potential than most other sectors.

The ABS doesn’t measure “tourism” jobs. So how can it be important?

It’s no coincidence that today’s ABS press release doesn’t even mention tourism. It doesn’t measure tourism jobs, so how could it consider them important?! And, consequently, with no political or public discussion, tourism has negligible visibility in national planning.

Beyond counting tourism data and allocated expenditure, there is no formal resource measuring the number of jobs in the industry. Canberra quite simply has little interest in tourism, because it doesn’t show on the radar.

That helps explain why last year, while international tourism was surging, Canberra put the hatchet through the tourism budget, and in 2018 only a few token tens of millions were put into regional tourism. For an industry that is quietly generating AUD100 billion to Australia’s bottom line, this is an appalling failure of government.

Why is it so important? Because, being largely free of threat from AI – unlike many sectors, especially in lower skilled jobs – this is the industry of Australia’s future.

And we need to be ensuring we’re providing the right platform for that growth. Right now, that’s not the case.