Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese has sent a call to arms to the Canberra tourism sector, which he says has "just copped it" from the Abbott government.
The federal government should be putting funds towards marketing Canberra to other Australians as the place where important decisions were made, he said.
He seized on figures from earlier this year showing domestic tourism numbers to the national capital had fallen and his comments came as figures for international visitors released on Wednesday also showed a decline.
The opposition tourism spokesman said Canberra should be to Australia what Washington was to the United States and he added the Abbott government had been let off lightly by the sector after the Prime Minister failed to appoint someone as tourism minister.
Tony Abbott gave trade minister Andrew Robb responsibility for tourism, although that was not explicitly in his title.
"You're too bloody polite," Mr Albanese told the National Capital Attractions Association, referring to the sector as a whole.
"As a sector, you just copped it.
"Imagine having no agriculture minister.
"What would the NFF and the Cotton Grower Associations do if there was no agriculture minister?"
The government's Tourism Research Australia body calculated in the year to June 2014, international visitor numbers to Canberra were up 2 per cent, but visitor nights were down 12 per cent and total trip expenditure had dropped 6 per cent.
"I believe the ACT more than anywhere else, by definition, you have a critical role to play in terms of national identity," Mr Albanese said.
"It's important for who we are. It's the place where decisions are made.
"I think you lose the debate if it's about 'Canberra'. There's a difference between 'Canberra' and 'national'. There are people on both sides of politics who will say 'Canberra, why should we put money into that?'"
Visit Canberra director Ian Hill said figures he had access to, but which did not appear to be publicly available, showed the decline in domestic numbers was probably being pushed by a 39 per cent reduction in nights spent in the ACT by business travellers, because holiday visits had increased 8.2 per cent in the same period.
"The last three or four years the figures have been pretty strong," Mr Hill said.
"This has been because of blockbuster exhibitions, the centenary celebrations and sporting events like the British and Irish Lions."
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb said Mr Albanese knew "full well that he was the tourism minister" and he could not understand why he kept talking down the industry.
While Mr Albanese criticised the government for stripping Tourism Australia of the ability to undertake domestic marketing, Mr Robb said nationally there was about $20 billion of prospective investment in new tourism assets and renewed investor confidence in Australia.
"It should be noted that Labor didn't even bother to take a tourism policy to the 2013 election," he said.
The ACT's opposition tourism spokesman, Brendan Smyth said the figures were concerning and the territory's Labor government should explain the reductions.
"Is this a centenary year hangover?" he said.
"Is it a lack of planning? If not, what is the reason?"