The unrestricted growth of tourism in places such as Byron Bay could spark a political backlash, a leading industry group says.
A new report commissioned by Tourism and Transport Forum Australia has found the industry is set to boom around the country over the next decade.
The number of people working in tourism is expected to double, making the industry the largest employer in the country, while spending in the sector is predicted to grow by 57%.
But Tourism and Transport Forum Australia chief executive Margie Osmond said the communities that hosted visitors were often left disaffected.
“You’ve got cities like Barcelona and Berlin and others who are electing local governments off the back of an anti-tourism feeling, and that’s a great shame,” she said.
“It’s a problem that is very live all over the world now.
“We need to plan for this better and make sure it isn’t an issue here in Australia.”
Ms Osmond said infrastructure was going to be a major issue.
“It is going to be about diversifying the load … diversifying regional dispersal to places other than the top-of-the-list beauty spots like Byron Bay,” she said.
Byron at Breaking Point
Byron Bay attracts more than 2 million visitors a year.
Mayor Simon Richardson said the situation put an unbearable strain on infrastructure, which was only supported by about 30,000 ratepayers.
He said state and federal governments were too focused on growth.
“We don’t need more marketing. We’ve already got 2.1 million visitors [per year] coming,” Cr Richardson said.
“What we do need is the infrastructure and support.
“So the reasons why people may not come again is poor toilets, poor roads, not enough car parking.”
Cr Richardson said allowing the council to imposed a bed tax would be a good start.
“A bed tax or a levee is one thing, but there are a few different things that council would like, including opt-in and opt-out provisions, where local communities can have a say if holiday letting or Airbnb can operate,” he said.
“Give local communities a say in how they want a tourism sector to operate.”
NSW Tourism Minister Adam Marshall said a bed tax was not an option.
“What I have told the Byron mayor is that the State Government will not be entertaining a bed tax at all,” he said.
“But if there are other ways that we can help the community deal with the influx of visitors, not just in peak season but now given the success of marketing campaigns right throughout the year, then I’m very happy to look at that.”
Mr Marshall said the New South Wales Government had millions of dollars worth of infrastructure funding programs currently available to councils.
Meanwhile, Airbnb said it would support a bed tax as an option.
Spokesman Brent Thomas said it was an issue he had previously discussed with Cr Richardson.
“We do understand that when you’re got so many visitors coming though the community every year, but the council can only get money from ratepayers,” he said.
“I think that is a real challenge for infrastructure spending and that’s why we support a tourism tax or bed tax.
“We in fact collect a bed tax or tourism tax in more than 370 tourist cities or jurisdictions around the world.
“We really want to partner with Mayor Richardson and council to do something similar in Byron Shire, and at the moment that’s not possible under the state laws.”
But Cr Richardson said the online accommodation giant could take the initiative.
“Airbnb could put, for example, a 10% surcharge on every single booking and give it to the community that raises it,” he said.