The place to be, is it all talk?
The latest leg of my round-the-world trip took me, perhaps predictably being a Britsh backpacker, to Australia. I have spent the last few weeks travelling up the east coast and set out to discover why so many Brits choose to spend a year or more of their life in a country they've never visited, what attracts them to stay once they arrive and if there is anything we could learn from it to help the UK tourism industry.
Backpackers are everywhere here. There are hostels in every town no matter how small, every other vehicle you pass on the highway is a campervan and international accents echo around the immaculate beaches, and the main thing that seems to attract people to Australia is an ever-growing reputation as the place that gives you the lifestyle you've always dreamed of. So many backpackers flock here every year and so many people of all ages make a life for themselves here that part of you assumes it must hold all the answers. Whether or not that is the case you have to decide for yourself once you arrive, but by then you're already here, spending money and supporting Australia's burgeoning tourism industry.
It is a beautiful country. Deserted beaches stretch for miles, the sun beats down day after day and there's a laid back feel to the place. The wildlife is wonderful, with bright multi-coloured birds singing in the trees, kangaroos along the roadside and koalas overhead, and nature takes your breath away where the world's most ancient rainforest springs out of golden sands on the coastline in Far North Queensland and idyllic islands await you just a short boat ride away.
Talking to people who are on or applying for their second year visa they mostly credit the weather with their desire to stay here. Okay, they've got us on that one. British weather is pretty lousy and with all the artificial beaches in the world, there's little we can do to change that.
So is it as simple as people want to feel like they're on holiday every day? I suppose we all dream of that when we're sitting at a desk watching the rain against the window. But when dreaming of a faraway beach it's easy to overlook what's on your doorstep. Fantastic shopping, great restaurants, bars and entertainment, sporting events, new music, a vibrant arts scene, historic importance... it's all right there, and the popularity of attractions such as the Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham demonstrates the importance of events in attracting visitors and are an excellent way of getting people talking about us.
Word of mouth is an extremely powerful tool. Lonely Planet is just one example of a resource that many travellers rely on and the latest edition sings the praises of Birmingham as a rejuvenated city that's a great place to visit. 'Celebrity' is another, and maximising the profile of Birmingham's sporting teams and local celebrities helps to improve perceptions of the city itself. Does anyone have any other suggestions of ways we can make sure Birmingahm and the UK as a whole are on the tip of everyone's tongue?