Quirky strategy to bring tourists to north Queensland
IT SOUNDS like a 1950s dance hall craze, long forgotten when the shimmy and shake were replaced by arthritis and stout cups of tea.
Nonetheless, the number-crunching mind behind The Demographics Group believes the Far North's future tourism could hinge on a "Hop, Hop, Home" strategy.
Data insights compiled by Bernard Salt for the Cairns Post show Queensland's share of international visitation to Australia has been left behind by Victoria and NSW.
Visitation to Queensland is the highest it has ever been - but the Sunshine State's growth has been dwarfed by its southern competitors.
Mr Salt attributed the trend to "the Hari effect".
His organisation's newest employee, Hari, is a "brilliant" statistician from India who completed her university studies at RMIT in Melbourne.
Her parents flew over for her graduation and spent a fortnight in Australia, never venturing outside the big southern cities - and certainly not detouring to Cairns.
Mr Salt said the Hari effect, writ large, was felt all over the country as Sydney and Melbourne carved out a vast wedge of the international education sector.
"Queensland has lost positioning to NSW and Victoria," Mr Salt said.
"I think this is quite specifically Melbourne and Sydney, and I think it is quite specifically Melbourne and Sydney international students.
"That market has absolutely exploded and these are mums and dads coming out, and families, to visit those kids in the big universities down south.
"It's a market that really didn't exist in scale in the 1990s or 2000s, but it's certainly ramped up.
"Brisbane and Far North Queensland, certainly JCU, are getting a share of that.
"But not anywhere near the sheer numbers that are applying to Melbourne and Sydney."
That is where a Hop, Hop, Home strategy comes in.
There is plenty of scope for Cairns to vastly increase its own international education sector - and it is ramping up year on year - but it is unlikely to ever reach anywhere near the scale those southern capitals have captured.
So while mum and dad are visiting, they need to be convinced to hop over to Cairns before they return home.
"That's fine, Melbourne and Sydney, that's great," Mr Salt said.
"Encourage all the parents you could possibly imagine from Delhi and Mumbai, and Chengdu and Chongqing and Shanghai to Melbourne and Sydney.
"Do your stuff down there with your young graduate, and then hop home via Cairns, Far North Queensland, and then hop directly home to China and India."
Mr Salt said that was exactly what Cairns had managed to achieve with the Japanese market in the 1990s.
"And that is why Cairns has an Osaka and Tokyo direct link," he said.
"The legacy of the Japanese invasion in the 1990s is that you've got those air links."
Tourism Tropical North Queensland chief executive Mark Olsen agreed a Hop, Hop, Home-type strategy would be crucial to the region's success.
He said direct international air links, and building global awareness of them, were crucial to any such campaign.
The industry's terminology - an "open-jaw" itinerary - called for much the same thing.
"Visitors need to be able to enter through one port and exit through another," Mr Olsen said.
"Otherwise there are too many internal legs and too much backtracking.
"That requires a steady flow of visitors from a diverse range of markets.
"It does need business travellers to fill the front end of the plane, it needs free and independent leisure travellers booking at a full rate online, and then it requires group travellers providing volume at a fixed rate."
Mr Salt said the Far North could not afford to sit back and hope for the best while other destinations aggressively sought to steal market share.
"This is untapped, low-hanging fruit," he said.
"I don't know what the marketing strategy is, I don't know how you do it.
"I just know there's a big market there.
"You've got to find a pathway to tap into that market."