Bill Shorten’s $1 billion election commitment to boost tourism in northern Australia is a strong indicator that the tourism sector is being recognised as a key player in the country’s economic future, a Griffith researcher says.

Professor Susanne Becken, Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism, has welcomed the announcement by the leader of the Opposition in Cairns.

“This shows that tourism is at the top of the political agenda,” she said.

“To commit to invest that much money to northern Australia tourism projects shows they get tourism and understand it is a vital sector.”

Mr Shorten wants to source the funds from the $5 billion northern Australia infrastructure investment fund announced in the 2015 Federal Budget.

Professor Becken believes renewable energy and digital infrastructure should be top priorities if a funding boost materialises after the July election.

“We need to be forward thinking and it is already crucial that we look at developing infrastructure for the next century. If we want to futureproof tourism in Australia, these are the steps we need to take now.”

Professor Becken called for greater innovation in investment with a renewed focus on what solar power and wind energy can offer the tourism sector.

“We also need to look at the potential for northern Australia to create new and exciting experiences, including for example indigenous food, for tourists that they cannot get anywhere else in the world.”

Professor Becken argues that future government funding needs to be invested in developing the emerging Asian tourism market.

“There is huge potential which has not been explored. We should start by investing in research around what Indonesian tourists would want if they came to northern Australia and northern Queensland. There is a significant market on our doorstep which could open up many new opportunities for the tourism sector.”