CANBERRA (Reuters Life!) - Tourists visiting Australia often worry about deadly spiders and sharks but a new campaign on flights coming into the country hopes to warn them about a greater danger -- the surf.
Overseas tourists entering Australia are to be given safety instructions after a sharp rise in the number of drownings involving foreigners on the country's famed beaches, surf life saving officials said on Thursday.
Eighty-two people drowned on Australia's beaches last year, and more than a quarter of these, 26, were foreigners, ill equipped to deal with the strong currents and surf. This was up from nine overseas visitor drownings in 2006.
"This high risk group has limited English skills, a lack of knowledge about the beach, over-estimate their swimming ability, inadequate swimming skills and a general lack of surf safety awareness," said Brett Williamson, Chief Executive of Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA).
In a bid to curb the rise, six international airlines -- Singapore Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Garuda Indonesia, Air New Zealand, China Airlines and South African Airlines -- have agreed to screen a coastal safety video on inbound flights.
Tourists will be warned to swim between red and yellow safety flags on popular beaches, read safety signs and swim with a friend. They will also be told to stay calm and attract attention from lifeguards if they run into trouble. "To many Australians these rules seem like second nature, but they are not to international visitors," said women's world surfing champion and SLSA spokesman Stephanie Gilmore.
Australia's tourism industry has run into trouble this year with overseas visitors driven off by renewed strength of the Aussie dollar which is currently near 21-year highs against the euro and lifting above 93 U.S. cents.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics said international tourism accounted for A$23.5 billion ($22 billion) in the A$1.2 trillion economy in 2008-09.
But in the year to July, one million more Australians went abroad for holidays than foreign tourists visiting the country, a reverse from nine years ago when almost 1.5 million more foreigners visited Australia than locals traveling abroad.
"Tourism directly accounts for almost half a million jobs or almost 5 percent of total employment with many of the jobs in regional Australia," said CommSec Chief Economist Craig James.
"If foreign tourist numbers stagnate and more Aussies travel overseas the effects will be felt even more widely across the economy," said James.
$1=1.066 Australian Dollars Reporting by Rob Taylor; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith