One day, the world will reopen, and people will again travel and want to see the sights. Some of them will come to Sydney.
According to Australian Tourism Statistics, during 2018 in Australia there were 8.5 million international visitors spending $43.9 billion over an average of 32 days. It generates 2.6% of GDP and 4.5% of employment Much if not most of that takes place in Sydney. This is one of Australia’s largest export industries, and despite the dollar signs in the eyes of the local capitalists, I don’t think it is maximised.
Disneyland’s Magic Kingdom in Anaheim, California , one of many parks owned by The Walt Disney Company, saw 18.67 million visitors in 2018, similar to, but less than, a successful shopping mall (Mall of America gets 40 million visitors a year). Most, if not all, of those Disneyland visitors were single day (I am not clear how the accounting is done, but if I were them, like a transit agency I would be reporting turnstile entries rather than distinct people), and many were domestic, but nevertheless, Australia is a bigger tourist attraction than Disneyland. Disneyland, like Germany, is divided into several lands:
- Main Street USA
- New Orleans Square
- Star Wars Galaxy Edge
- Toon Town
Disneyland also sports an adjacent California Adventure Park with its own lands. Its sibling, Disneyworld, Florida features Hollywood Studio, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom parks in addition to the Magic Kingdom.
Sydneyland is similarly divided into lands
- Circular Quay and Opera-land
- Shopping land: George Street and Pitt Street
- The Domain / Botanical Gardens
- Darling Harbour (Casinoland and Convention-zone)
In addition, there are some other nearby Parks that are elements of the greater Sydney amusement properties
- Luna Park
- Taronga Zoo
- Bondi Beach or Manly Beach
- Olympic Park
- Scenic World in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, connected by bus to the Katoomba train station.
- Raging Waters (Wet’n’Wild) (and also Jamberoo Action Park south of Wollongong)
The Opera House serves the function of the Princess’s Castle, though it is not quite visible from all the lands. Both have fireworks and entertainment for visitors.
Sydneyland vs. Disneyland
Sydneyland and Disneyland differ foremost in urban embeddedness. Disneyland is situated as an isolated park in Anaheim within the Greater Los Angeles region. Sydneyland is enmeshed in the Sydney urban fabric, it’s part of a real, if a bit fantastical, city. The ownership and management of Disneyland is centralised. Although the transport links are fully public controlled, with private contractors, Sydneyland’s attractions are largely decentralised. That creates value, opening its creation beyond the cathedral of Disney Imagineering to a broader marketplace where individual entrepreneurs can create a more changing experience. But while the gain is creativity, there is a loss in synergy, of a central oversight that tries to capture positive externalities. Similarly there is no system-wide pass, cash is required for every attraction.
People work in Sydneyland for purposes other than immediate guests services. While tourism is a dominant feature of the economy, there are other aspects which have non-touristic functions interspersed among the various lands.
Disney has played with urban planning. EPCOT was initially conceived as a real city, that is not how it was realised. Disney did ultimately construct the town of Celebration, Florida on its properties, but with a population of 7,500, it hardly compares with Sydney’s 5 million people, or even the City of Sydney’s 250,000. So Sydneyland restaurants and museums can serve locals as well as tourists. This provides some robustness.
Visitor Transport in Sydneyland
Visitors typically arrive in Sydney by boat or by air, both of which have good connections to the local network. Beyond walking, the primary tourist transport system in Sydneyland is the ferry and train services, along with special buses, though the ferry and train network fails to connect all the key destinations without the concomitant bus service, and transfers are required.
Gaps in the Sydneyland Experience
What’s missing from Sydneyland? The Sydneyland tourist experience would be much improved if many things that were once here were not removed. Sydney is too quick to abandon places and networks, abandonments which it may come to regret, which results from their decentralised decision-making and failure to maintain.
- Trams provided connections between many of the scattered destinations in Inner Sydney. The system was designed for local residents, but one imagines today it would have evolved like Melbourne to have a large tourist market. Sydney’s trams were removed in favour of buses by 1961, Melbourne didn’t make the same decision. New light rail lines have a different function, and are also much more expensive to construct.
- The Sydneyland monorail was disabled last decade, rather than being expanded to fully cover Sydneyland. The network was too small to be effective and too expensive to be for anything other than a one-time ride. But the concept of an urban circulator geared toward visitors is not of itself unreasonable. Rather, the execution needs more thought.
- History: Historical buildings. Sydney then and now (book) and Facebook group show many sites where buildings were lost and replaced with something inferior. While restoring many of those older architectural structures that have been replaced is a big ask, preserving what remains should be a higher priority.
- Living History: A full-fledged history park, perhaps like Old Sydneytown, but better located, to help assuage the parents that the trip to Sydneyland is educational, and not simply entertainment. Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia is a model. (There is Australiana Pioneer Village, which I have not yet visited so cannot assess)
- Food: A good food market, like the Haymarket’s Paddy’s Market might have been. This could be revised on the lines of Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market.
- Rides: Sydney once had Wonderland Sydney in the western region, as well as O’Neill’s Adventureland. There are proposals for new amusement parks, but nothing concrete.
- Entertainment Film: A studio tour, transforming Fox Studios, now accessible by light rail, and the adjacent area into more than just a sterile Entertainment Quarter site for those attending stadium events. Imagine a Mad Max: Fury Road themed ride, or entering the Matrix (filmed in Sydney). (a Studio Tour for Fox’s Back Lot is not a new idea either, Fox had a theme park from 1999-2001). [Of course there is a Warner Bros Movie World in the Gold Coast, but that’s pretty far from Sydney]
- Entertainment Games: SegaWorld – themed on everyone’s favourite Hedgehog, Sonic, located in Darling Harbour
- Animals: A world-class aquarium [Seaworld in Gold Coast doesn’t count, nor does SeaLife]
- Animals: A ‘safari tour’, though hopefully with a more Marsupial theme, as people probably don’t come to Australia for an African Lion Safari. (The Safari started as a home for Bullen’s circus animals apparently).
- Exhibits: A Garden Palace, which Sydney once had for the 1879 Sydney International Exhibition, before it was burned down, coincidentally? destroying public records along the way.
- Nightlife: Shows and drinks and things that take place after dark. People always seem to be saying it used to be better in their youth.
But in addition to wishing that what was taken away was instead preserved or will now be restored, we might also think about what never was but should be. Copying other cities is a cheap way to get some attractions, but the real question is what can be done that would make Sydneyland more unique, not just another homogenised tourburb in the world vacation system.
Unlike me, most people don’t come to a city for its transport in general, a few distinct icons, like San Francisco’s Cable Cars exempted. But they stay and return if the transport system is interesting and convenient. From the tourist perspective, the most glaring gap is easy service by Train to Bondi Beach. A local circulator bringing White Bay, Darling Harbour, and Circular Quay is also an obvious gap, and some have proposed a gondola, which we would all ride once, but this seems less efficient then rebooting the Monorail, and perhaps the Metro West line stations at the Bays Precinct, Pyrmont and Barangaroo will fit the bill. The mode that will make people happiest is undoubtedly ferry though. Most cities don’t have good ferry systems, and people like being on the water. The ride itself is an attraction. It is well within Sydney’s grasp to have a more efficient ferry system that turns boats around quicker and serves more destinations at a higher frequency.
A decent shared bike/e-bike and scooter system coupled with a comprehensive network of separated and protected bike paths will also enable many tourists to get between attractions independently and happily. The city and region need to be more ambitious on this front.
While Disneyland is short of land, Disneyworld has planned for the future, and has plenty of expansion opportunities. Sydneyland too is readily expanded. The most obvious target area is around Glebe Island and White Bay, which can easily be plugged into the Ferry and Metro networks. DisneySea in Tokyo can be a model for this. In fact the DisneyWharf at Sydney Harbour proposal, more like Florida’s Celebration, considered this site and would have been open to the public without a gate, though individual elements would of course been charged for. White Bay has a Cruise Terminal now, but not much is walkable from the site, and it is not as desirable as the Cruise Terminal at Circular Quay (which is great for the tourists, but less attractive for everyone else). The government has tried to pitch this site for corporate headquarters, but no one has bitten yet.
Woolloomooloo Bay, with the naval base protecting us from a Japanese invasion looks like another site for potential addition to the Sydneyland core economy. What the appropriate feature for this site remains to be seen, but undoubtedly there is always room for more casinos.
The various islands in the Harbour could also feature nice attractions. It has been proposed (and rejected) to turn Cockatoo Island into an art precinct.
Sydney also should have a first-rate transport museum. The Tramway museum is a bit remote and under-developed, but has a nice collection of rolling stock. The Sydney Bus Museum is excellent, and is adjacent to a bus depot in Leichhardt, but still a bit obscure. The State Train Museum is in Thirlmere and requires a bus transfer to reach by public transport. The Powerhouse, named because it was a Powerhouse, an energy generating building for Sydney trains, combines transport (including rail, aviation, and space, among others) and fashion (under the guise of technology), and a few other bits and bobs, but is being dismantled and reassembled for Parramatta, apparently, as part of a redevelopment opportunity. The Nautical Museum in Darling Harbour is really nice as well, and perhaps most oriented toward tourists. This should be systematically rethought.
The ethnic suburbs of Sydney are great, and not really well marketed to those from outside. While as customers we don’t want our favourite local places overwhelmed with tourist buses, I am sure the vendors would like more business. And if you are spending on average a month in Australia, more time in these suburbs seems appropriate. A food tour of Sydney should definitely take you out of the CBD.
The Statue of Liberty, facing New York City, was a gift of the French. Their two other core values: Égalité and Fraternité, should similarly be located at the entrepôt of other world cities. While Australia, like many places struggles with equality, the value of mateship, or fraternité, is central. A giant statue of Fraternité in Sydney Harbour would help cement Sydney’s position among the great cities. I imagine it would be a statue of John Cornell and Paul Hogan, but perhaps there are better sets of mates, like Burke and Wills (though that ended badly) or Bennelong and Phillip.
- Disneyland, California is used as the example here, obviously different parks have some differences in their land, embeddedness, and so on.