20 July 2012 - "Foreign tourists regard Australians as unreliable, unhelpful and untrustworthy" screamed one headline from eTN Global Travel Industry News (dated 18th July).
The article in question referred to the fact that, while Australians like to think of themselves as rugged, fun and easygoing, the Chinese think of Aussies as not very helpful. What's more, the Americans think Australians don't deliver on quality and good value, and the British think Australians are charming but untrustworthy. How's that for a reality check!
The subject of 'culture' and cultural perception has always fascinated me. Culture is not the product of lone individuals. Rather, it’s been a powerful human tool for survival since time immemorial. Through the ages, it has enabled communities to teach their young what they have learned in order to survive in their own environment. People stick to their own culture as it makes them feel safe. It stands to reason, therefore, that when people are traveling to a foreign country and visiting a foreign culture, they feel safer doing so with members of their own cultural group. And in doing so, they bring a little bit of their cultural attitudes and expectations with them to foreign soil.
So why should Australians care what other cultures think of them when they come to visit Australia?
Here's why Aussies should not only care, but CARE A LOT:
* Australia tourism is the largest revenue-earning sector of the country. Australia tourism contributes to nearly 3.9% of the Australian GDP which is nearly A$32 billion.
* There were 5.95 million visitor arrivals for year ending May 2012, an increase of 0.5 per cent relative to the previous year.
* There were 2.5 million visitor arrivals to Australia during the five months to May 2012, an increase of 3.1 per cent relative to the same period of the previous year.
* There were 393,500 visitor arrivals during May 2012, an increase of 1.8 per cent relative to the same period of the previous year.
As to why other cultures see Australians as being unhelpful (Chinese), lacking in value (Americans), or being unstrustworthy (British), herein the culture differences lie, all of which you can read in my book, Culture Savvy For Women:
The Chinese are an honour based society that put great importance on the concept of 'face'. To maintain one’s ‘face’, one must maintain harmony. This means avoiding conflict at all costs, including disagreements over a point, or when directing criticism at someone. Western societies, including Australians, are considered by the Chinese to have ‘thick’ faces as they have little regard for non-verbal cues, they tend to be more direct (blunt) and less polite.
The Americans, on the other hand, are open, gregarious, hospitable, and generous as a race. Relaxed and informal, other cultures from more formal backgrounds, such as the British, may find the American level of openness confronting. Americans are a culture with a 'big' personality, and they equally expect this generosity and 'big' level of hospitality of their destinations when they travel.
Despite being an Anglo-Saxon based society, the British are vastly different to the Americans. They are nearly obsessive about maintaining and respecting personal space, which explains why they have a certain reserve when engaging in conversation. They don't gesticulate wildly, make dramatic facial expressions, or raise their voices when speaking. In fact, the British value good manners and appropriate speech; conversation is controlled and discreet at all times and they regard anyone else that doesn't adhere to this with suspicion.
Enter the Australians, a laid back, down to earth people with strong egalitarian values. Abhoring pretentiousness and arrogance, they have little respect for formalities. In Australia, far more importance is placed on expressing equality than becoming preoccupied with what title to use when addressing someone or how to hold a knife and fork. Australians are open and direct, sometimes to the point of bluntness.
Can you see now how other cultures might view Australians as being A) Unhelpful, B) lack quality and value, and C) as untrustworthy?!
The key to increasing tourism for Australia, therefore, is increased understanding of different cultures through education. In turn, this will assist and encourage the hospitality industry in Australia to develop meaningful connections with different foreign cultures so as to make them feel safe and welcomed in our country.
To do my bit to help Tourism Australia along, I sent their 'People & Culture' team a copy of my book, Culture Savvy For Women at the beginning of July. Not a word of acknowledgment yet, dear readers --- will keep you posted!