Part of the allure of visiting Australia is its unique animals. Cuddly koalas, inquisitive kangaroos and colourful birds are often featured in international promotions.
However, not all Australian animals are as friendly as kangaroos and koalas. Snakes, sharks, spiders, poisonous fish, marine stingers and crocodiles can cause serious injury or death.
Tourism is Australia’s largest service sector export industry, accounting for nearly 10% of total export earnings. The industry directly employs over 500,000 people.
Keeping tourists safe is important if the industry is to continue to thrive. So do Australia’s deadly animals deter visitors?
At a national level the presence of deadly animals does not appear to affect the capacity of the country to attract international tourists. After a long period of low growth, which had more to do with the high value of the Australian dollar than deadly wildlife, international arrivals are again on the rise.
Recent figures from Tourism Australia show that in the last 12 months international arrivals increased by 7% to reach 6.7 million. Spending rose by 13% to A$34.8 billion.
Keeping tourists safe
The results of just published research into swimming in the sea in Cairns give some insights into the concerns tourists have about deadly animals.
The majority of respondents were worried about dangerous marine animals, with 80% nominating crocodiles as posing the greatest danger to swimmers, closely followed by marine stingers. Concerns about sharks and stingrays were also high.
The results of the research confirmed that tourists are at least somewhat aware that they may encounter deadly animals in some areas of Australia. The vast majority of respondents (82%) reported they were aware that marine stingers might be encountered during their trip to Cairns.
However, the presence of dangerous animals did not deter people from swimming: 60% of domestic visitors and 83% of international reported going swimming. However, respondents did report taking precautions. Most (81%) chose to swim in beach enclosures and over half reported wearing a stinger-proof swimsuit while swimming.
Not all respondents particularly liked stinger-proof suits. One respondent reported that it was like wearing a full-body condom.
Apart from educating tourists about the potential to encounter deadly animals there is also a need to protect them.
In northern Queensland, as in other parts of the country, coastal communities have developed a range of strategies to protect tourists and members of the local community. Strategies generally include education, lifeguard patrols, warning signs and the installation of stinger-resistant swimming enclosures.
Measures of this nature are effective only if tourists, and locals, restrict their swimming activities to protected areas. The evidence from this research indicates that most tourists have recognised the dangers and do swim in protective enclosures.
What about the locals?
Elsewhere in Australia, the main threats are posed by sharks, crocodiles and, to a lesser extent, snakes.
In a recent article on shark attacks in Australia over the period 2002 to June 2014, Australian Geographic reported that there had been 22 fatal attacks. Almost all victims were Australian residents.
Crocodile attacks are relatively rate. However, because the coastal rivers and beaches of northern Australia that tourists find so enticing may also overlap with salt water crocodile habits, caution is required.
Protecting tourists and locals against shark and crocodile attacks is more difficult than against stingers. Once again education is a key element and based on the evidence of the low overall number of attacks each year appears to have been effective in keeping tourists, and locals, safe.
While many tourists are concerned about dangerous animals it does not deter them from visiting Australia. The message for the nation’s tourism industry is that it is important to tell tourist that there are dangerous animals and assure them that strategies have been put into place to protect them. It is also important to tell tourists that they need to adopt sensible precautions such as wearing stinger-proof swimsuits and swimming in areas that are protected.
From a destination perspective it is important to ensure that funding is sufficient to maintain protective infrastructure such as stinger nets, warning signs and consumer education programs.
It is also important to ensure that emergency services are adequately funded and that staff are trained to assist tourists who may not understand English.
This article is part of our series Deadly Australia. Stay tuned for more pieces on the topic in the coming days.