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TIME TO HEAD DOWNUNDER: Australia welcomes Canadians

When Tourism Australia came to Toronto recently their message was clear – Australia is open for business. Chris Allison, Regional General Manager, North America, said recovery is where it’s at right now – and this is the magic moment – “that amazing spark that you’ll find in our industry all throughout Australia, that exchange between the visitor and the visited.” Canadians, he said, will never feel more welcome in Australia, “Now’s the time to come.”

Trip Advisor’s Steve Pagnelli noted that the despite regional/global differences, the industry in general has been on a steady upwards trajectory since 2021. A study on Canadian travellers shows that they are, “ready to get out there, ready to be travelling after many years of not being able to.”

A high propensity to Canadian travellers want to visit friends and family that they haven’t been able to see for two years, a situation that represents great opportunities in terms of bringing those visitors back to Australia..

Overall there was also a real desire to be in the outdoors. Here in Canada and elsewhere, people essentially explored their own backyards, now as restrictions ease, they are ready to move further afield and travel to other places.

With Canadian restrictions relaxing, Paganelli notes that 48% of Canadian travellers say they’re going to be travelling internationally and travelling for longer periods. The thought being, “We’re going to go now because we have the chance now, and we don’t know if that chance is going to be taken away from us.”

Perth and Melbourne

Tourism Australia took a very conscious decision at the very start of the pandemic to maintain engagement strategies with distribution partners, and continue to make sure that relevant content was being kept in front of target consumers in both Canada and the US to ensure that people continued to be inspired about Australia, and to keep them dreaming about an Australian holiday, whenever it became possible to make that trip, said Allison – Australia didn’t want to remove itself from connections with consumers in any of its core markets.

Safety and security are a huge consideration and a very important message to deliver – particularly, since the announcement of Australian border restrictions being relaxed, there’s been a significant increase – approximately 50%, in terms of people perceiving Australia being a safe destination to travel to because of the way that it managed COVID.

That respect for the country’s management of the pandemic, said Allison, has “created this excellent perception of Australia being a safe destination to travel to and therefore consumers have a high degree of confidence about wanting to travel there in the future.”

A broader interest by travellers in different categories has become apparent. There’s a rising interest in the cuisine, and of course, wineries are always popular. Matthew Cameron Smith CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia spoke of an affinity for indigenous tourism that has been a key interest for the Canadian market. Aside from training courses at a new academy to prepare for incoming tourism, he said it was “really about providing an economic platform for what is the world’s oldest living culture”.

The Gallery of Central Australia is dedicated solely to showcasing the heterogeneous nature of indigenous or Central Australian art. The artist sets the price, the gallery displays it in a way that is respectful to that particular region and that style, and that provides economic benefit to community.

Indigenous Tourism and The Gallery of Central Australia

Allison gave credit to Tourism Australia, and the government, for playing a significant role by recognizing the value of the tourism industry. They really stepped into provide as much assistance as they could to the tourism industry he said, making sure that people could stay employed as long as possible, and that businesses were managing and surviving.

The bushfires had a major impact on international tourism to Australia, and at that point Australians were encouraged to support their own tourism industry rather than spend their tourism dollars outside of the country.

A marketing platform called Holiday Here This Year, was built originally to support bushfire recovery, but then ultimately became a significantly bigger challenge in terms of encouraging people to feel safe to travel across Australia, and take the opportunity to explore Australia in ways that they hadn’t done before.

Allison pointed out that whilst international tourists could not visit Australia, very tight border policies meant no one was allowed to leave either right up until October, November last year.

“So, that gave us a big opportunity as a tourism marketing organization to encourage people to take advantage of this time that they had at home. Get out and explore their own backyard.”

Whilst the domestic tourism plan would never replace what was lost for international travel, it was part of the survival story allowing domestic tourism dollars to be spent where they might not have been spent previously. And that helped keep businesses going. Australians took up the challenge really significantly in terms of supporting industry operators in Australia.

Airlines in Australia have greatly expanded domestic connectivity and Australia has seen no major tourism operator casualties come from COVID because of the great support the government’s provided and the work that Tourism Australia has been able to do to stimulate tourism. Also given credit are smart decisions that have been made by many operators over the last couple of years to ensure that they are still around and ready to welcome back international guests.

Australia continues to maintain its engagement strategies and market with distribution partners, but also continued to make sure that it was putting relevant content in front of target consumers in both Canada and the US to make sure people continue to be inspired about Australia, and keep dreaming about a Australian holiday.

You wont be bored…

In terms of some of the other broader interests Australia has seen come to the fore in its research, are food, drink and wine – always popular of course, and an affinity for indigenous tourism has also been a key interest for the Canadian market. There is a lot of interest in food and wine as Australian chefs experiment with food and the use of native ingredients has gone through the roof. Now visitors are not interested just dining and great restaurants – although that’s always popular – but they also want to learn about how to cook indigenous cuisine. And, no surprise the interest in touring all of the wineries around the different states within Australia is huge.
Note: Keep an eye out for the new Netflix series with Zac Efron called Down to Earth, which is filmed entirely in Australia. Efron and Darin Olien actually go and eat off the land in many parts of Australia. A great insight to know what real Aussie food was like from millions of years ago.

Getting there

Air Canada’s Tim Liu said the airline had to rethink how to best service customers. They considered everything from cleaning the aircraft to the entire process at the airport. They adopted a lot of progressive technology, including the ability to have a traveller now go to the airport and check in without ever interacting with someone. An entire touch free, touchless experience.

“We used this as an opportunity not only to reset and re look but actually to make our visibility better.” He said, “And overall, hopefully, what we emerge is a better Air Canada that we can service customers globally.

Liu, said demand for Australia has been really strong, and to the point where Air Canada will be operating 10 times a week between Sydney and Vancouver this summer. Flights to Brisbane will increase to four times a week, which means this summer there will be 14 flights between Vancouver and Australia.

Sydney and Brisbane

Air Canada is partnering with Virgin Australia, which provides connecting service in Sydney and Brisbane to the rest of Australia for Canadian travellers.

“And couple that with our hub in Vancouver, essentially, we are able to bring Canadians from wherever you are in Canada, to Australia, and also some Americans as well, we actually carry quite a lot of Americans on our flights to Australia as well because Vancouver’s just that much of a convenient connection point.” Said Liu.

“The future’s bright for Australia right now. We’re pretty excited about what’s going on there. Obviously, we have ambition to serve the other major city, which is Melbourne, at some point. That’s on the map. We’re looking at that and, hopefully, the time will come when we will be able to go back into Melbourne as well.”

Starting in December and continuing through the first quarter of 2022, there was a huge increase in traffic to the Australian content on TripAdvisor.

Staying there…

“It’s been a rough road for the last couple of years, there’s no escaping that, and our industry’s been in survival mode,” said Allison, “but despite that, there’s been a huge amount of innovation coming over the industry in terms of preparedness for this point when we’re able to welcome back international tourists.

“Over the past two years we’ve had over 100, either new hotel openings or major hotel refurbishments. We have 12,000 new hotel rooms in Australia. We’ve got some global brands coming into Australia for the first time. We’ve got W expanding, Ritz-Carlton around Australia. We’ve had new Crown Towers open in Sydney. So, there’s been a huge amount of development on that side.”

Interestingly however, hotels have lost a little bit of market share, as travellers become more interested in vacation rentals.

“On the experience side we’ve seen a lot of operators really re-envisioning their tourism experiences to be more mindful of how people want to consume tourism experiences going forward. So, huge nods into sustainability. There’s also been a small but growing portion of tourism experiences emerging where people can come back and directly provide, give back to the community. For example, you have experiences now where you can still come in and contribute to the bushfire recovery efforts with tree planting. You can come and participate and join in some of the wildlife sanctuaries and provide support there in terms of wildlife recovery.”

The key message to deliver to people is that the Australia they know is very much still alive, but there’s also a new and amazing Australia waiting to be discovered.

A funding boost

Tourism Australia has been given extra funding from the government – a $45 million funding boost for the next two years, which really signals the importance of how Australia needs to support the recovery of international tourism from all of our major markets across the globe.

Allison said that what the funding boost allows Australia to do is spend more money in Canada for the first time in a number of years. So, the demand that they are seeing in Canada gives them confidence to further invest in this market to drive further market demand and simulation.

“We’re very excited about welcoming Canadians back to Australia again.” He said. “There’s a very passionate industry waiting down there, a very passionate country to welcome you back again.

First published at Travel Industry Today

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