More than 30 businesses in Agnes Water and the Town of 1770 in central Queensland now accept cryptocurrency as a form of payment, with the beach community billing itself as Australia’s first “digital currency-friendly” tourist town.
The aim is to attract a niche market of international tourists, who can pay for goods with digital currency like bitcoin that can be instantly converted to Australian dollars.
Local real estate agent Gordon Christian said he won local businesses’ support to bring the technology to the town to boost its main industry, tourism.
Mr Christian said the strategy was about bringing more tourists to the area and attracting an alternative type of traveller.
This week, cryptocurrency groups and tourists from Japan will join local businesses to launch the town’s campaign, which is already being promoted with a billboard welcoming visitors.
A new financial frontier
From cafes in Launceston, Tasmania to hairdressers in Burleigh on Queensland’s Gold Coast, bricks and mortar retailers across Australia are gradually beginning to accept digital currency, which is bought online and encrypted using data technology known as blockchain.
It became legal tender in July 2017 and the Australian dollar currently is 18th on the Bitcoin Volume by Currency index — well behind the Japanese Yen, which sits at the top of the ladder in a market that constantly fluctuates.
Last week, Queensland start-up TravelbyBit rolled out its point-of-sale app that facilitates crypto payments at Brisbane Airport, earning it the moniker of “Australia’s first digital currency-friendly airport”.
A tracker on the company’s website shows just a handful of transactions in the airport each day so far, worth between $5 and $55.
TravelbyBit CEO Caleb Yeoh said it was early days for the currency, and that there was strong support for it as a “social movement”.
“If you travel around the world you have to deal with multiple currencies, the exchange rate can be confusing, sometimes you struggle to find ATMs, and sometimes you get swindled by money changers,” he said.
“Travelling with one global currency like Bitcoin … makes sense.”
He said the blockchain technology protected merchants from the costs of credit card fraud.
“Blockchain has the ability to make transactions a lot more transparent and efficient … I think it’s the way of the future.”
Taking cryptopayments to regional Australia
In Agnes Water-1770, Mr Christian began looking into digital currency when a client of his, who was also a business owner, wondered how to go about processing a bitcoin payment from a customer.
Mr Christian learned the currency was being rolled out at Brisbane Airport.
“I thought, ‘This is something worth having a look at’.”
Mr Christian said building the support of businesses in the small town of just over 2,000 permanent residents wasn’t hard.
“We started from the ground up, shared it with a couple of businesses and they were straight on board … I guess they were international travellers themselves and had heard of these types of payments.
“Initially we had a good 10 businesses that just said, ‘Fine — let’s go for it’.”
He said the idea spread across the town’s tourism industry with the “digital traveller” in mind.
“So it started out as, ‘Well, how would they get here? Could we provide a shuttle service to bring them from the airport or the railway station?’
“Then [we considered], ‘Where would they stay and what are they going to do when they get here?’,” he said.
Thirty-one businesses in the town have now signed up, from resorts and backpackers to tour companies, restaurants, the local pub and a day spa.
Attracting a different type of traveller
With cryptocurrency gathering a cult following of loyal users worldwide — especially in countries like Japan and Korea — Mr Yeoh said Agnes Water-1770’s title of Australia’s first digital currency town had the potential to lure tourists from more typical destinations like Cairns, Sydney and Melbourne.
“We’ve got merchants all over Australia but they’re very sporadic. [Agnes Water and] the Town of 1770 has the highest concentration,” Mr Yeoh said.
“The town has made a very strategic move in trying to appeal to a niche market to take perhaps some of those tourists … to come out to their little part of the woods.
“People who use cryptocurrency … it’s a social movement and they believe in it, and therefore they support places … who take it.
“So they would come to a place like this just because it takes digital currency.”
When the billboard sprang up near the town centre, locals joked about “buying bait with bitcoin” in the sleepy coastal town, a five-hour drive north of Brisbane.
But others expressed excitement at the move.
Mr Christian said the digital ledger technology blockchain was opening up a “whole new way of doing business in the world, storage of information, and tracking of logistics”.
“It’s a whole new world.”