Bringing Perth closer to the world

Tourism Minister Paul Papalia hopes new direct flights to Perth will continue to grow visitor numbers. Photo: Keane Bourke.

For the head of the Indian Society of WA, the push for the state’s next direct international flight isn’t all about business – it’s personal.

It’s an important route too for Tourism Minister Paul Papalia, who is hoping to have established at least three new air routes before the next election.

He’s already secured two big wins, with a daily flight to Tokyo launched early last month, and China Eastern committing to a five-week trial of flights to Shanghai early next year.

The last flight of the trio though – to somewhere in India – is proving to be the most troublesome.

Attempts to lure two of India’s biggest airlines to Perth have so far been unsuccessful, with Jet Airways declaring bankruptcy in April, and Air India freezing their network as the government prepares to privatise the country’s national airline.

Despite the uphill battle, Mr Papalia said he’s committed to connecting Perth and India.

“It’s a huge potential market,” he said.

“We’re spending money now advertising WA [in India], so we’ll grow, but if we get an airline flying direct it can massively boost the Indian market.”

While it’s too soon to know the impact of the Tokyo flights, the government said it expects the 76,000 additional visitors they bring to inject up to $175 million into WA’s economy over the next three years.

Signs so far are positive for local businesses though with Fremantle Prison alone reporting double the number of tourists from Japan over the last month, compared to the year before.

Perth Airport currently serves 16 international destinations, with hopes two more will be added soon. Graphic: Keane Bourke.

Bringing family closer

Surya Ambati says flights connecting Perth to India could even help bring Bollywood production to WA. Photo: Keane Bourke.

Surya Ambati is the President of the Indian Society of WA and said a direct flight across the Indian Ocean would have an impact far beyond tourism by making Perth more accessible to a range of people, including students, businesses and even Bollywood.

“The big part is the family aspect,” he said.

“Suppose my family would like to go here. I need to go there and bring them here.

“If there is a direct flight, my relatives can board them there in India and I can receive them here in Perth.”

Qantas previously flew a direct route from Perth but cancelled the flights in 2011.

Mr Ambati said since those flights were axed, WA’s Indian community had changed significantly.

“The population has exploded,” he said.

“Those who have settled here in the last 50 years, they are very well-to-do now.

“They value time more than money, in terms of transitioning. If I need to transit five, six hours in some other country, that time is valuable.”

The Indian Society is planning to present a petition to state parliament next month, which has already received more than 2000 signatures.

More than just flights

This week Mr Papalia announced WA hosted a record 2.76 million out-of-state visitors last financial year, who together injected more than $1.5 billion into the state’s economy.

International holidaymakers are responsible for more than half of that money, with spending up more than 20 per cent on last years’ figures.

Despite the positive signs, not everyone is so confident.

Karl Bullers owns the National Hotel in Fremantle and is the chair of Freo Now an organisation that supports businesses in the port city.

He’s optimistic the benefits of the new flights will flow into Perth, but said they aren’t the only solution.

“The more direct flights we’ve got the more opportunities there are for more people to come directly into Western Australia, but it has to be part of a bigger strategy,” he said.

Mr Bullers said working at a higher level than tourists themselves could be key for Fremantle.

“For Fremantle, it’s getting our presence within those organisations, who then are becoming part of that strategy,” he said.

“It’s all about working with the other government agencies, I think.”