March 10, 2021

By Joyce DiMascio

Tourism Australia (TA) has had a big brief for supporting the visitor economy. And a key to it is “just getting through this year.”

Marketing Australia as a leisure and business destination to the world has been its traditional mandate for more than 53 years. But over the past 12 months, its programs have been expanded to include encouraging Australians to both holiday and meet in Australia.

At the annual Destination Australia conference, held as a hybrid event last Friday, the nation’s chief of all things tourism, Pip Harrison, gave a wide-ranging speech that shed light on how the agency is approaching the future, the rebuild of the industry and in particular the return of the international market.

Pip Harrison’s had a very short honeymoon in the managing director role after her appointment in September 2019. Covid changed her brief substantially, but it is clear now that TA is well down the road to planning how to return to its brief of attracting international visitors.

And while that’s dependant on the success of the vaccine and the re-opening of international borders, TA has given the industry some clear indicators about which direction our marketing programs will take.

Throughout the Covid crisis, it has kept its ear to the ground through a solid research program tracking consumer and corporate/association sentiment towards Australia.

The challenge ahead is enormous, but Pip Harrison told the 600 attendees in-person and 400 online that rebuilding the Australian Tourism industry will be in partnership with industry.

“We are here today to talk about the future of tourism – something which, as we all know, is difficult to predict – so today is the time to consider future scenarios, be informed, and collaborate,” she said.

“And even though, at times over the last year, it has been hard to see when that will happen – as we move into 2021 and our vaccination program is rolling out, we know we will open, and we are confident that, in time, international visitors will return in pre-Covid numbers and beyond.”

Her rally cry was that TA will do everything in its power to drive pent up demand, in partnership with industry, by telling Australia’s story to the world.

She said that building a strategy had never been more difficult, but also never been more important.

“As the goal posts keep moving, we have found building flexibility into everything we do is a key part of this,” she said.

She said 2020 was all about crisis management but over the next 12 months, Tourism Australia is shifting on the recovery continuum from “reactive to proactive growth.”

“We work in an environment of long-lead times, in leisure travel, and especially in business events where we are writing business for 2026 and beyond, so it is crucial that an international focus remains a key priority for Tourism Australia.”

So, what are the areas of focus? This is it in summary from her speech.

Drive opportunistic conversion in the short-term – By targeting the parts of the industry that need it most – cities, internationally-reliant destinations, business events and experiences.

Expedite recovery for aviation and distribution – Aviation is critical to recovery, and TA will work with state partners, airports and airlines to rebuild the record capacity we had at the end of 2019.

Be a platform and support for industry – This is a fundamental pillar of what we do and we continue to look at innovative ways to facilitate your connections with our partners and consumers – we’ll continue to distill and communicate the information you need through our recovery.

Bolstering the business events industry remains an important pillar – Our business events sector is another area of tourism that has been severely impacted and needs ongoing support to drive demand to increase conversion of new events and encourage more delegates to confirmed events. Like our leisure marketing, we have a temporary focus on domestic marketing through our Event Here This Year campaigns, encouraging domestic events to take place here in Australia.

Elevate and champion indigenous tourism – We want to facilitate greater understanding of indigenous heritage and drive the uptake of indigenous tourism experiences.

Drive awareness of, and capability for, sustainable travel – This year, we are putting more of a spotlight on advocating for Australia’s sustainable tourism offering in a way that that meets increased consumer demand and increases industry readiness.

Long-term demand generation and growth – Ensure that Australia remains competitive by continuing to drive long-term demand today. Australia is likely going to be one of the last destinations to fully reopen to international travel. We are acutely aware of how hard we will need to work to ensure Australia continues to be competitive in the global landscape.

Against this backdrop of focus areas, Pip Harrison foreshadowed some of the emerging trends in what travellers are indicating and their likely choices.

She said the first trend is “Choiceful Travel”: Today’s travellers are increasingly seeking out brands and experiences that are not only good for them, but good for the world around them. 74 per cent are actively seeking out travel experiences that allow them to give back to a destination

“Premium Proliferation” is the next trend – and by that we mean – It’s about value for money not cost: Our research is showing us that the pandemic has shifted consumer attitudes towards value for money. And even though our costs may not have changed, an Australian holiday is seen as better value for money. That’s because of the increased importance to consumers on what Australia is known for – safety, nature and wildlife.

 The next trend is “big shift east continues”​: The split of international visitation from western to eastern markets has been happening over the past decade, moving from one third of visitation from eastern markets in 2009 to just under 50 per cent last year.” This trend would continue although TA would seek to balance work in both eastern and western markets.

A new trend is “work from anywhere, together”​: The abrupt digitalisation of the remote workplace in 2020 led to a surprise boom in a new form of “corporate travel” last year.

Remote working became big business. External meetings successfully moved online, boosted by advancements in virtual reality platforms. A study by Booking.com found that more than a third of travelers have already considered booking somewhere to stay in order to work from a different destination.

The final trend is “escapism”: Escapism is a rising trend. Recent research shows global travellers’ perceptions of Australia as a safe destination is increasing, and Australia is now the country most associated with safety and security, moving ahead of Japan.

Pip Harrison is buoyed by these trends and says that Australia is in a great position in a post-Covid world, we just need to get through the next year.

In wrapping up her important address to industry, Ms Harrison outlined her views on “Covid-normal” and that involved finding ways to open up borders and manage a tailored quarantine system for a cohort of long-stay travellers such as Working Holiday Makers scheme, business travellers or students.

She called for solutions to allowing travellers from other markets with appropriate vaccinations to directly enter Australia after quarantining in these bubble markets first.

And finally, she called for consideration of green lanes just to those states that are ready and can provide certainty to international travellers.

It was an important address to the industry, and one which showed our national tourism organisation is activating all programs to get us on the road to recovery as soon as federal and state government policies permit.

“We can’t eliminate this disease, but when the risks are significantly reduced, we must open again. The rest of the world will be open before us, competition will be fierce, and we must be ready to capture that pent up demand,” Ms Harrison said.