Print Posted By Glenferrie Traders Association on 21/06/2017 in Arts & Culture

Cultural tourism and creative industries pump $23b into Victorian economy

Cultural tourism and creative industries pump $23b into Victorian economy

Debbie Cuthbertson 

With its internationally-renowned laneways full of street art, one of the globe's most highly-concentrated music scenes and world-beating arts institutions, many Melburnians consider their city one of the greatest cultural destinations on earth.

But to many people overseas, Sydney – with the white sails of its opera house an instantly recognisable international landmark – is the first Australian city that comes to mind when they think of creative capitals.

Street art-covered laneways are among Melbourne's most-visited cultural attractions. Photo: Eddie Jim

A Boston Consulting Group study commissioned by the Victorian government says a lack of promotion for the state's arts and cultural offerings and a failure to provide an overarching cultural guide for tourists is holding back cultural tourism to the state.

And we had better watch our back, it warns. "Melbourne's position as Australia's cultural and creative capital is being challenged," the report says, noting the NSW government's $600 million cultural fund (which just funded a new $244 millon Sydney Modern contemporary museum) as a real threat to our reputation as the cultural capital.

The NGV's 2014 Melbourne Now exhibition is its most popular, bringing more than 750,000 people through its doors.

The NGV's 2014 Melbourne Now exhibition is its most popular, bringing more than 750,000 people through its doors. Photo: Simon Schluter

The National Gallery of Victoria, by far the most-attended public gallery in Australia, has spent several years fundraising for its equivalent, NGA Contemporary, without identifying a site or attracting government funding. 

According to the BCG study, cultural tourism and creative industries contributed around $23 billion to the state economy in 2015. 

While Australians think Melbourne is the most creative Asia Pacific city, according to a Global Traveller survey, our international visitors think Sydney is the most creative. 

But they change their tune once they visit Melbourne, the survey found, at least slightly, being 25 per cent more likely to recommend this city as a cultural destination. 

Melbourne's street art was among the biggest drawcards for domestic and international tourists, after Melbourne Museum and the NGV. The museum's 2011 Tutankhamun exhibition holds the record for highest attendance, attracting 796,000 visitors, followed by the NGV's Melbourne Now showcase of local contemporary artists in 2014, which drew 753,071 people. 

Melbourne's cultural offerings are not "cutting through", according to heads of institutions and influential arts identities surveyed by BCG. 

More than 600,000 people took part in White Night Melbourne this year.

More than 600,000 people took part in White Night Melbourne this year. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui

But the competition for cultural tourism has moved beyond the traditional Melbourne/Sydney rivalry, says state Creative Industries Minister Martin Foley. Now we're competing with Singapore, Seoul and Mumbai. 

Some of the research, such as international visitors' perceptions of Sydney as Australia's cultural capital, were a surprise, he said.

"We expected to outrank Sydney, but international visitors see it as the place to come to. But once they've been here, they see Melbourne as a cultural space."

Compared to Sydney, and other Asia Pacific cultural centres, Melbourne had a much broader, deeper creative offering and infrastructure, Mr Foley said. 

"As important as it, and I'm not playing it down, we're talking the whole ecology, including the small to medium companies.

"I wish [Sydney] every success ... I'm sure it will be good but in terms of square metre space, they don't come to the size of the two sites at the NGV.

"It's not about size, it's about reasons to give a wider demographic engagement.

"Everything from big cultural festivals to small things in between lifts us to that global vision of a 24-hour city and state."


  • Melbourne ranked first in Australia, third in Asia and 12th globally in index of creative cities
  • Cultural tourism accounts for 32 per cent of Victoria's 10m international and domestic visitors 
  • International cultural visitors could be worth $2.5 billion by 2025
  • Cultural visitors stay 25 per cent longer and spend 20 per cent more per trip
  • Creative industries generate 8 per cent of employment in Victoria
  • Creative industries and cultural tourism contribute $23 billion to state economy

Source: Boston Consulting Group

Annual attendance:

  • Live music performances: 5.4 million
  • National Gallery of Victoria: 2.6 million
  • Melbourne Museum: 1.8 million
  • Australian Centre for the Moving Image: 1.45 million
  • Comedy Festival: 800,000
  • White Night: 600,000


  • Melbourne has more than 100 art galleries
  • Victoria hosts around 400 cultural festivals  
  • Greater Melbourne has 465 live music venues
  • There are 630 artist or rehearsal spaces available for rent 
  • Victoria is home to 5800 visual arts and craft businesses

Join Our Newsletter