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Domestic Arts Tourism: Connecting the country

Feb 05, 2020

Image credit: Homage to the Castlemaine Woollen Mill workers – Libre Hem, 2017. Credit: Denise Button, The Mill Castlemaine.

Watch the Domestic Arts Tourism: Connecting the Country webinar.

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The relationship between art and travel is long-standing, deep and complex. We travel to see art, and even when art isn’t our primary destination, we naturally gravitate to the art of a place in order to understand the meaning of that place.

Domestic tourism provides an opportunity for Australians to immerse themselves in exceptional cultural experiences, and many Australians are travelling to experience the arts: at concerts, in galleries, on stages, or through more niche opportunities across the country.

Arts experiences have a growing role as a driver for tourism in Australia and are increasingly part of visitors’ itineraries. This report presents trends and insights on how Australians connect with the arts as they travel around the country, whether on short daytrips or longer overnight stays. It helps build the picture of Australians’ willingness to travel for the arts, of the value of the arts in helping us understand the place we are in, and the great capacity of the arts to support local economies and build stronger regional communities.

From large scale festivals and events, to visits to artist workshops and studios, the arts draw domestic tourists to both metropolitan and regional locations, providing opportunities to share local creativity and culture with visitors.

There is a willingness to travel to destinations beyond capital cities to seek new and authentic experiences, including growing engagement with First Nations arts and craft – diverse expressions of the world’s oldest continuing living culture.

Australians are connected through these experiences by building our community wellbeing, cultural identity and social cohesion, while supporting local and regional economies.

As a priority under our five-year strategy Creativity Connects Us, the Australia Council is committed to enabling more opportunities for Australians to be captivated by arts experiences in everyday life. We want inspiring arts experiences to be welcoming and easily accessible, and reflective of our unique culture that is simultaneously ancient and contemporary.

This report is a companion piece to our previous research publication International Arts Tourism: Connecting cultures. Together these reports highlight the value of arts and culture to Australia’s tourism strategies and the importance of a vibrant, creative landscape for tourism, the broader visitor economy and society as a whole. They also equip artists and arts organisations with valuable intelligence about the behaviours and interests of tourists in Australia and strengthen the evidence base for Australian arts and creativity.

Elevating the value and broader relevance of arts and creativity in Australian public life and policy making is critical to a creatively connected nation where creative enterprise is entrenched across society, industry and government as the fuel that ignites our social, cultural and economic success.

Dr Wendy Were, Executive Director Strategic Development and Advocacy.


Key insights:

  • Domestic arts tourism is growing: Greater numbers of Australians are travelling than ever before. Along with population growth and overall growth in domestic tourism, the numbers of Australians engaging with the arts while exploring their own country are growing.
  • There are unique offerings in different parts of Australia: There is no one-size-fits all for arts engagement on a domestic trip – Australians connect with the arts in a broad range of ways. The most popular and fastest-growing arts tourism activities vary across the country. Each state, territory and region offers unique arts and creative experiences, and this is reflected in the data.
  • First Nations arts and craft are a strong and growing area of domestic arts tourism: First Nations arts tourism is increasing, reflecting Australians’ strong and growing interest in engaging with First Nations arts for their beauty, strength and power, and to understand who we are as a nation. The regions where tourists are most likely to engage with First Nations arts and craft are in regional Australia, and particularly regional areas of the Northern Territory where First Nations arts and craft are driving arts engagement by tourists.
  • Arts tourism tends to align with travelling further, staying longer and spending more: Arts tourists are high value tourists – they are more likely to stay longer and spend more when travelling than domestic tourists overall. Australians are more likely to engage with the arts when they travel further afield – those who take overnight trips rather than daytrips, and those who travel outside their home state. The areas where tourists are most likely to engage with the arts are often outside the large east coast capital cities.



Destinations around Australia:

Click on each image to learn about different arts destinations for domestic tourists across Australia.

2019 was named Queensland’s year of Outback Tourism

2019 was named Queensland’s year of Outback Tourism

The Queensland region where visitors were most likely to engage with the arts on an overnight stopover was Outback Queensland. Of those who visited Outback Queensland on an overnight stopover, 14% engaged with the arts. 68

The Queensland Government declared 2019 the Year of Outback Tourism, celebrating the outback and encouraging visitors to explore the region. 69

Outback festivals draw tourists to regional and remote areas. The Big Red Bash Festival in Birdsville, on the edge of the Simpson Desert in Outback Queensland, is the world’s most remote music festival. 70  The Big Red Bash also includes an arts and entertainment program for children – in 2019 this was the Big Red Rumble, exclusively for kids at the festival. Kids at the 2019 Big Red Bash worked with musicians and bands to create a performance piece to be rehearsed and performed at the festival. 71

Also in 2019, the Central West region in Queensland was profiled in Australian cultural and creative activity: A population and hotspot analysis, an Australian Research Council Linkage project being undertaken by the Queensland University of Technology and the University of Newcastle, in partnership with five state government cultural funding agencies. The project involves in-depth analysis of twenty areas that have been identified as ‘creative hotspots’ based on local cultural and creative activity. 72

The report identifies that tourism activity has become increasingly a mainstay of a local economy facing big challenges, including the major psychological and economic depressive effects of long-term drought. It highlights a very professional, resilient and sustainable tourism ecosystem which effectively links cultural and creative activity with heritage, science and cultural infrastructure as well as traditional industries such as agriculture.

68 Data is based on a four-year average from 2015 to 2018.

69 Queensland Government 2018, 2019 The Year of Outback Tourism, Media Statement, 16 December 2018, viewed 5 November 2019.

70 Birdsville Big Red Bash 2019, viewed 5 November 2019,

71 Birdsville Big Red Bash 2019, Big Red Rumble, viewed 5 November 2019,

72 Queensland University of Technology 2019, Australian Cultural and Creative Activity: A Population and Hotspot Analysis Central West Queensland: Blackall-Tambo, Longreach and Winton, 1 August 2019.

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair is one of the largest meetings of artists, art buyers and tourists in Australia

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair is one of the largest meetings of artists, art buyers and tourists in Australia

In 2018, First Nations art and craft accounted for 11% of the arts activities that visitors engaged with in Darwin on overnight stopovers, greater than any other capital city in Australia. In addition, attendance at festivals on overnight stopovers in the Northern Territory has grown 83% since 2014.

The Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF) is a festival that brings together 70 art centres and represents the artwork of over 2,000 First Nations artists from across Australia with an estimated 14,000 visitors in 2018. The fair also contributed an estimated $15 million to the local economy. 64

The DAAF, and the art centres involved, present visitors the opportunity to purchase First Nations art ethically, ensuring all proceeds go directly to artists and art centres.

In 2019 the DAAF showcased the collaboration between designer Gorman and Mangkaja Arts, highlighting the intersections between vibrant contemporary First Nations arts and fashion. 65

65 Ashton, K 2019, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair draws thousands as artists fight unethical dealers, ABC, 14 August 2019.

Darwin Festival 2019, Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, viewed 5 November 2019.

66 Nurick, J 2019, Why you should visit the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair: from Country to Couture show, Vogue Australia, 2 August 2019. bade542b215b4fe01c29bb109a22bb24

The annual Byron Writers Festival is attracting literature fans to the region

The annual Byron Writers Festival is attracting literature fans to the region

The Byron Writers Festival contributes to Australia’s vibrant literature sector and attracts visitors from around Australia. Each year, 12,000 people attend the festival across a multitude of events, and membership numbers continue to increase.

Nearly half of those who attended the Byron Writers Festival in 2018 were from outside the local region (48%), with most visitors travelling from elsewhere in NSW, South East Queensland and Victoria.

Attendees who travelled to the Byron region for the festival were also more likely to be newcomers to the festival, reflecting an increase in Australians’ willingness to travel for the arts. 52

52 Byron Writers Festival 2018, 2018 Annual Report, 2018, Byron Bay.

Artists in regional areas are opening their studios to visitors

Artists in regional areas are opening their studios to visitors

Open artist studios offer a unique experience: a rare opportunity for visitors to meet artists, see their private studios and view works in progress. Visitors can engage with the depth of the artist’s work, seeing it through a more personal lens than on a gallery visit.

Making Art Work, a 2017 study of professional artists working in Australia, found that one in six Australian artists live in regional cities or towns, and craft practitioners are some of the most likely to live outside capital cities. 15

Margaret River Region Open Studios, a free and annual open art event celebrates the diverse and vibrant visual art in the Margaret River Region in Australia’s South West. Over 100 artists in the Margaret River region open their studios to visitors, showcasing art forms from craft and visual art to printmaking and installation. 16

15 Australia Council for the Arts 2017, The Arts in Regional Australia: A Research Summary, November 2017, Sydney. Throsby, D & Petetskaya, K 2017 Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia, available at

16 Margaret River Region Open Studios 2019, viewed 5 November 2019. Australia’s South West 2019, viewed 5 November 2019.

Burnie’s Makers’ Workshop is a space for people to make and experience art

Burnie’s Makers’ Workshop is a space for people to make and experience art

Makers’ Workshop is a cultural hub in Tasmania’s North West celebrating local makers, innovators and artists, operated by the University of Tasmania.

Opened in 2009, Makers’ Workshop offers a range of visitor experiences including interactive paper-making tours, encounters with artists, historic displays and an exhibition space.

The Workshop is well-known for its vibrant Makers’ Program, a consortium of (over) 30 local artisans specialising in a variety of craft and art forms. Makers’ demonstrate their skills and techniques to visitors, showcasing and selling a (superb) broad range of quality handmade products and artworks at the on-site studios.

Makers’ Workshop has become increasingly important for the local region as a cultural attractor for more than 135,000 visitors annually, (but) and also as a learning space for people to make and experience art in a place-based setting.

Repurposed spaces can become regional cultural hubs

Repurposed spaces can become regional cultural hubs

A former woollen mill in the Bendigo Loddon tourism region, The Mill Castlemaine, attracts visitors to the region with food, artisan markets and artists workshops.

The Mill’s artisan precinct is a space for tenants and stallholders to share their craft and artists to showcase their spaces and studios, as well as offering arts and craft workshops to engage visitors.

Also in Castlemaine, Lot19 Art Space is home to 21 artist studio spaces as well as a contemporary art gallery and outdoor sculpture park. Studios include Castlemaine Press, a community access print-making studio; and Castlemaine Clay a community access ceramics studio.37

Community involvement in artist spaces fosters community social cohesion and the opportunity to engage visitors to Castlemaine. Artists can share their craft, and the public can share and contribute to their own understanding of art, creativity and the region.

37  Lot19 Art Space, viewed 2 February 2020,

Adelaide has a high proportion of arts daytrips that include craft workshops

Adelaide has a high proportion of arts daytrips that include craft workshops

There can be blurred boundaries between the arts activities in the National Visitor Survey (NVS) and while respondents select the category that best fits the activity undertaken, they may choose more than one category for the same activity. For example, a workshop that is part of a festival may be reported as festival attendance or workshop attendance or both.

Workshops are often a featured part of a festival’s program. The South Australian Living Artists Festival (SALA) is a state-wide festival of visual art held yearly in locations across South Australia – not just Adelaide – to promote and celebrate South Australian visual artists. 17

The festival includes open artist studios and workshops, where visitors are encouraged to participate, not just observe. SALA includes an Open Studio Weekend, with additional opening times over the festival, where visitors can meet local artists and visit their work spaces. The festival includes tours and workshops, where visitors are encouraged to participate, not just observe.

17 South Australian Living Artists (SALA) Festival 2019, viewed 5 November 2019.

Canberra Glassworks gives visitors the opportunity to watch artists at work

Canberra Glassworks gives visitors the opportunity to watch artists at work

Watching artists at work is an immersive and unique experience. Visitors to Canberra Glassworks have the opportunity to watch glass artists at work and learn about the processes of glass blowing, neon, kiln forming and casting.

As well as the ability to view glass artists working, Canberra Glassworks presented eight exhibitions and welcomed 84,000 visitors through its doors in 2019. 67

67 Source: Canberra Glassworks

Co-commissioned works by major festivals increase audience reach

Co-commissioned works by major festivals increase audience reach

Counting and Cracking, co-commissioned by the Sydney Festival and Adelaide Festival, exemplifies the power of art to reach new audiences and create a genuinely inclusive cultural landscape.

A co-production by Belvoir St Theatre and Co-Curious, Counting and Cracking is a large-scale theatrical work telling a Sri Lankan-Australian story which has connected communities and continents and made a profound contribution to our unfolding national story.

A resounding success at both the Sydney and Adelaide Festivals, Counting and Cracking sold out its world premiere season at the 2019 Sydney Festival, followed by standing ovations at the Adelaide Festival. 18

The work speaks to an exciting new audience and the power of genuine community engagement. It attracted more than the traditional or ‘typical’ festival goers, including having a deep and profound impact on the local Sri Lankan community who saw for the first time their families’ stories and histories placed where they belong, as part of Australia’s story.

18 Australia Council for the Arts 2019, Annual Report 2018-19, October 2019, Sydney.


Domestic arts tourist definition

In this research, a domestic arts tourist is defined as a resident of Australia who did at least one of the following while on a daytrip or overnight trip within Australia:

  • attended theatre, concerts or other performing arts
  • visited museums or art galleries
  • visited art or craft workshops or studios
  • attended festivals, fairs or cultural events
  • experienced First Nations art, craft and cultural displays

Australians travel in different ways, depending on their destination, time available and preferences. This report includes analysis of daytrips and overnight trips.

Daytrip definition

Tourism Research Australia defines daytrip visitors as Australian residents who travelled at least 50 kilometres away from home (round trip) and were away from home for at least four hours but do not spend a night away from home as part of their travel.

Australians travelling on daytrips are likely to go to destinations closer to their home, given the limited time daytrips afford.

Overnight trip definition

Overnight trips are taken by Australians wanting to stay longer at their destination, or who may be visiting a destination that is further away from their home. Tourism Research Australia defines an overnight trip as a trip where Australian residents stayed one or more nights at least 40km from home while travelling within Australia.

Tourism Research Australia’s tourism regions

Tourism Research Australia divides Australia into 77 tourism regions based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) geography standard. Throughout this report selected tourism regions are highlighted by data and case studies.

Time periods for analysis

To ensure sufficient sample sizes for analysis, this report looks at two time periods. At the overall, state and territory, capital city tourism regions and metropolitan and regional levels, analysis is based on data for the 2018 calendar year. All other tourism region data is reported as four-year average data from 2015–2018 unless specified.

Australians are more likely to engage with the arts when they travel further afield – those who take overnight trips rather than daytrips, and those who travel outside their home state. The areas where tourists are most likely to engage with the arts are often outside the large east coast capital cities.

Tourism regions with the highest proportion of arts activity for daytrips, 2015–2018

     Ballarat (Vic)

2     Canberra (ACT)

3     Bendigo Loddon (Vic)

4     North West (Tas)

5    Capital Country (NSW)

6    Sydney (NSW)

7    Adelaide Hills (SA)

8    Melbourne (Vic)

9    Hobart and the South (Tas)

10   Southern Queensland Country (Qld)

Tourism regions with the highest proportion of arts activity on overnight stopovers, 2015–2018

     Lasseter (NT) 

2     Hobart and the South (Tas)

3     Canberra (ACT)

4     Alice Springs (NT)

5    Darwin (NT)

6    Spa Country (Vic)

7    Litchfield Kakadu Arnhem (NT)

8    Outback NSW

9    Melbourne (Vic)

10   Bendigo Loddon (Vic)