Destinations

WA’s bid to boost tourism could risk harming quokkas

Tourism Western Australia has announced a huge two-year plan aiming to revamp tourism numbers in the state by positioning WA as Australia’s western gateway, and intensifying promotional activity.

The state government has committed to providing $425 million to Tourism WA over the next five years and Qantas’ new Perth to London route is expected to help boost international tourism in the region.

Tourism WA plan on working with industry providers to promote Perth as an affordable and vibrant destination.

Tourism Minister, Paul Papalia, told the ABC that tourism hasn’t been going well for WA.

“Tourism has really suffered during recent years. We’re lagging dismally [behind] all the other states,” he said.

“We are now more affordable than both Sydney and Melbourne, and our average hotel price is more affordable than the national average.”

“Now is the time to come and visit.”

Papalia also spruiked the unique natural experiences travellers can find not far from metropolitan areas.

“You can go down to Rockingham and walk amongst a penguin rookery, see a seal colony,” he told the ABC.

“Or if you’re a bit adventurous, go swimming with wild dolphins.”

He emphasised the appeal of Rottnest Island’s quokkas, which have been made famous for having THE CUTEST LITTLE FACES which people love to take selfies with.

Most notably, celebrities visiting the island like Margot Robbie and Roger Federer.

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“I am trying to establish that as a must-do for everyone. Not just celebrities but we’re actively working to establish that as a precedent and encourage any celebrity visiting to do that,” he told the ABC.

“It just provides us with a bit of free publicity.”

“You can’t get a quokka selfie anywhere in the world other than in Western Australia and that means we can leverage of that to attract people.”

An interesting point to make considering the current backlash against tourists taking selfies with animals.

Even Instagram is getting passionate about it.

If you search for certain types of animal selfies, quokka selfies included, you get a warning message from Instagram telling you the content you’re looking for “may be associated with posts that encourage harmful behaviour to animals or the environment.”

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We had a chat with Ben Pearson,  Senior Campaign Manager for World Animal Protection, to find out more about the harmful effects of animal selfies.

He said it depends on how the selfie is taken.

“If the selfie involved someone taking a selfie and there’s a quokka in the background, that’s ok with us,” Pearson said.

“The concern we have is when people actually handle the animals, so for example, if what the tourism minister means is that hoards of tourists will descend on the quokkas, pick them up, handle them, pass them around, then that’s obviously not ok.”

“It’s stressful for the animals, it puts them at risk of being dropped or being handled in a way that injures them so it’s really a matter of how you take that selfie.”

Pearson stressed the importance of providing additional information when talking about tourism that involves interaction with animals.

“We’d like the minister to clarify his comments and we’d like the tourism industry to put into place measures to make sure it’s clear to tourists what they mean and whats appropriate in terms of how you interact with quokkas.”

“Mainly, that you don’t get close to them, you don’t hold them, and how you can take a selfie with them without causing distress or harm.”

Pearson also expressed concern for the current management of tourism on the island in terms of quokka protection.

“Worrying for us there have been instances in the past where silly blokes go there and kick them, we’ve just heard reports of people setting fire to one and just treating them badly,” he said.

“There was an incident recently where they were being kicked by teenaged boys, so clearly there is a need to manage crowds.”

“And in this case, it’s a matter of common sense.”

“If you send more and more people  to Rottnest to see the quokkas and there are not adequate guides in place or expectations around how to treat them then there’s more chance someone will do the wrong thing.”

Travel Weekly contacted Tourism WA for comment.

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