By Brad Foster

Tourism Australia managing director, Phillipa Harrison, provides micenet with an update on activities, the organisation’s latest “big pivot” and the new normal.

Phillipa Harrison is a hard woman to catch at the best of times. Right now, it’s a little harder. And no wonder. At present she’s probably feeling a little like the PM who appears to be working 24/7.

But she did grab an hour last week to respond to some questions we asked about the current state of play and what TA was doing.

Hard to imagine that if the industry you were working in suddenly grinds to a halt what you would do. For TA, they don’t appear to be having a problem. More work, just different.

The focus for TA is now well and truly on the domestic market but that doesn’t mean that they’ve slowed down any on the international front, particularly in the business event sector.

“With many international planners working through the COVID-19 business pause, and considering the long lead times for business events, a continuing presence in international business events markets is key for us in order to seed the appetite for Australia for when travel resumes,” Ms Harrison said.

“Understanding that timing and tone is so important at a time like this, we’re keeping in touch with our international customers and continuing proactive engagement with international media to stay up to date with media and customer sentiment and developments.

“Our role is to build desire for Australia and even during times like this, it’s important that we continue to drive demand by maintaining a presence in our key markets. During lockdown people have more time to read and plan – it’s what we call the ‘dreaming’ phase – and so it’s key for us right now to maintain a presence via our content strategy, especially since face to face engagement can’t be delivered.”

Like they did when the bushfires devastated many regional Australian destinations, TA’s focus is returning to the domestic market in the short term.

“With international borders closed for the foreseeable future, we will be undertaking domestic activity to support industry recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 on the business events sector.

“We’ll be looking to connect with key event decision-makers to remind them to event in Australia when the time is right, and we’ll also look to deliver more partnership activity to help drive conversion opportunities. We’re currently cementing our plans and will share the full details shortly.”

Asked whether the world as we know it has gone and we can expect a new normal, Ms Harrison says

while it’s too soon to speculate, “we know that recovery will be gradual and domestic-led so it’s most likely that we will be operating in a new normal for the interim”.

“I know many association groups are working on what might be a new normal. Our industry is and has always been adaptable, so they will work to ensure the appropriate protocols are in place and shift their businesses to assist key decision-makers.

“The last few months have been the most challenging our industry has ever faced with travel globally coming to a complete standstill as nations, destinations and businesses respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“So many tourism businesses have had to temporarily close their doors or close altogether, which is so incredibly heartbreaking to see.”

Appointed to the role in 2019, Ms Harrison remains optimistic despite the current challenges.

“It has been an incredibly challenging time for everyone across the sector and what we have been experiencing as an industry this year, first with the bushfires and now COVID-19 is no doubt one of the most difficult times that Australian tourism has ever endured.

“If someone had told me when I started in this role that travel would be completely shut down in six months’ time, I would have laughed and asked them what they were drinking! But here we are, and the team and I are so motivated to do our bit and support the industry through this time.

“On a positive note we know that tourism will come back eventually but it will be gradual and domestic led until international borders can reopen and travel globally can resume.”