January 24, 2023 | By Bronwen Largier

Queensland has just reported its expected visitor numbers for travel during the festive season, incorporating hard figures and predictions for the remainder of the period, and the rise in travel compared to the previous summer is not quite 2.5 per cent. So where does that leave us?

Between December 10, 2022 and January 9, 2023, intrastate and interstate visitation to Queensland generated 15 million visitor nights and the state government is expecting 1.5 million visitors to Queensland this summer season, spending more than $3 billion.

The one figure that caught my eye was that travel actually recorded to date is not quite 2.5 per cent higher than the same season straddling the 2021 and 2022 calendar years.

In late 2021, over half of Australia’s population had just emerged from months of lockdown and Queensland’s border was open to the whole of Australia for the first Christmas since the pandemic began. The desire for travel was high.

However, travel testing was a thing, even as Omicron sent testing lines soaring with actual COVID case competing with those who were sunshine state-bound from NSW, Victoria and Canberra. Both the size of the first Omicron wave and the testing required for travel would have put a dampener on the number of journeys.

In 2022-2023, travel is really, truly unrestricted, this summer’s COVID wave appears to be smaller and even people with COVID cannot be stopped from travelling. And yet the travel numbers have barely moved.

So what happens now? Does this simply ease the labour shortage in the visitor economy? Or does it profoundly hurt the businesses who are still trying to recoup lockdown losses? Are we going to need a perspective adjustment after a year of exponential growth realigned our expectations of the status quo?

Where leisure travel leads, business events are sure to follow. Several of the industry that micenet has spoken to for the AIME edition of our magazine – released February 13 – believe pent-up demand for conferences and incentives will continue through 2023.

There are several reasons for this.

Some communities are only meeting face to face for the first time in 2023, while for others, their first gathering back in 2022 was such a novelty that 2023 meetings will likely also benefit from strong attendance. In the incentive space, inventory and labour shortages have delayed the real fire-up of the sector, with capacity on all levels only really coming back towards the end of 2022.

But, if these predictions turn into reality, we might expect that in 2024, demand may no longer be soaring. What then? Do we use the time to fortify our talent resources? What do we need to develop, as an industry and through our supply chain, to retain a healthy demand and ensure that waning pent-up demand doesn’t become waning demand more generally? What’s the plan for nurturing a sustainable growth in demand after the crazy few years we’ve had?

I’m open to suggestions. Email me here.