Why Is Tourist Retail Such A Disgrace?

I walked through two very high profile (off-airport) tourist precincts in the last week to be confronted yet again by just how unbelievably embarrassing they are as a representation of Australia and Australian retail. Housed in horrible stores, the cheap crap on sale was all sourced from overseas and sold by retail staff most of who could not speak English nor connect in any way to the goods they were ‘flogging’.

What is the most disappointing aspect of this pathetic form of retailing is that it is located in such beautiful, iconic precincts and purporting to ‘promote’ Australia to people who want to mark a visit here with a keepsake.

Yes it is true that even Paris has shitty little retail stalls selling Eiffel Towers made in China but the vendors speak French and use charm to sell the tat. They are also restricted and heavily policed so they have some saving graces. Not – it appears – here.

There is clearly a global demand for cheap souvenirs. But there is also a global demand for products that are unique, high quality and special, allowing their purchasers bragging rights for marking a touching reminder of their visit. Australia has many unique opportunities to create and sell outstanding products which further enhance ‘brand Australia’ to a target audience that has the money burning a hole in their pocket, but very rarely do you see anyone taking advantage of it with creativity and flair.

On airport retail has gone through a dramatic lift in recent times. Off airport tourist retail in Australia has not. Restaurants and bars, venues and hospitality in iconic locations have experienced a renaissance and big lift in quality.

But general retail precincts in these areas and the product and experience they offer lag a long way behind and are overdue for ‘scorched earth’ renovation and renewal. With imagination, creativity, a bit of love and a healthy dose of Australian charm, we could produce products that we are not only proud of but that promote us globally as a unique experience.

From Kangaroo leather to Bondi Beach and beyond, it doesn’t take much effort to find things worth leveraging. The market is there. Most tourists leave the destinations they have visited with unspent funds. They are not shopping on price but rather on emotion. All it takes is a concerted effort by government, landlords, retailers and manufacturers to develop an approach based on value rather than volume. On uniqueness rather than me-too. On quality rather than cheap tat. On enhancing a joyful experience rather than just ticking a box.

We have the locations. We have a growing market. We have the raw materials.

All we need is the entrepreneurial focus we used to be renowned for to turn its energy to creating commercially viable magic. It is easy to exploit the status quo and the bar is very low. But the opportunity is there to create something memorable, exciting, patriotically inspirational and incredibly lucrative.

C’mon Aussie. C’mon.