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The state of Australia’s travel sector: Where to from here?

Despite the easing of restrictions and careful reopening of state borders, international travel remains a no-go for 2020. Instead, Australians are encouraged to think regionally.

Tourism Australia

Overseas visitor arrivals in Australia dropped by 60% in March, compared to the same month in 2019, with every state and territory recording devastating falls, according to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Seeing this, the empty airports and the rolling job cuts, it’s difficult to imagine a bright future for the travel industry.

The industry will continue to be impacted until there’s a vaccination, along with some reassurance that contracting COVID-19 is less of a global threat.

Despite the gloom, there is hope and opportunity, suggests Nicole O’Sullivan, Director at Birds Eye View Consulting, 13-year travel veteran and former team leader within Australia’s travel franchise, Flight Centre.

Australia travel
Nicole O’Sullivan, Director at Birds Eye View Consulting.

“We are inclined to see changes such as reduced amenities and services that we have been privy to in the past,” she says.

“However, Australians are resilient and will continue to travel. It may take some time, but I have had many conversations over the past weeks where all people can talk about is going away somewhere.

“We need to overcome the perception of the high cost that travelling Australia has and remember that the money we are injecting is to support the local farmers, small businesses and national park conservations.” – Nicole O’Sullivan

“It will be important for both travellers and travel companies to adapt to the new world quickly so they can take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves,” Nicole notes. That adaptation needs to have service at the forefront. “Consumers now have had several months of being locked down and surfing the internet.”

Nicole adds that according to Google, the most searched phrase from the start of April was, “When will it be safe to travel again.” She highlights that customers are eager and waiting to explore.

Having been in the sales and service industry for more than 15 years, Nicole is armed with ideas to help enterprises achieve growth. She has helped more than 20 companies worldwide, including Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz and BP. Thus, business for the travel specialist has not stopped.

During the past six months, she has coached companies in Australia, the US, the UK and Ireland in building and growing sales teams, and elevating leadership standards.

“I was in Arizona coaching a business when COVID-19 hit hard,” she shares. “I was forced to return to Australia on the last A380 Qantas flight from the US.”

Even though the situation was less than ideal, it has given Nicole a chance to regroup and figure out the next step to help businesses get to the other side of this pandemic.

Australia travel
Twelve Apostles, Gibson Steps, Great Ocean Road, VIC. Image: Tourism Australia

“It has been eye-opening to see the number of businesses with sales teams that don’t have the skills to nurture those bookings affected by this worldly event,” she comments.

“Businesses were doing fine when enquiries were free flowing and they were converting those leads. But when things became challenging, leaders discovered that their teams didn’t have the right support to handle the barrage of emotional uncertainty.”

“In 2020, The Whitsundays will be the new Croatia and Tasmania the new Scandinavia. People will adjust and adapt, and the desire to travel and experience new places will continue.” – Sarah Clark

For many people across Australia and the globe, regional travel will be the path to escapism for the time being. “Many Aussies have never explored our beautiful backyard,” Nicole says.

“This is an exciting time for us to get out and explore the beauty Australia has to offer and understand why thousands of people flock to experience this great southern land we proudly call home.”

Nicole adds that regional Australia has one of the most significant opportunities for growth in the next 12 or so months.

Australia travel
Blue Mountains, NSW

“We need to overcome the perception of the high cost that travelling Australia has and remember that the money we are injecting is to support the local farmers, small businesses and national park conservations,” she says.

“I can relate to consumers when they say it’s the same cost to fly to France as to Tropical North Queensland. But after this world shutdown, I would prefer to spend my money on a phenomenal holiday that is making a difference to those who need it most.

“Especially after the devastating fires in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, as well as the crippling droughts in Queensland.

“If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we are in this together – so let’s support our local businesses and get out to see what a spectacular place Australia is.”

Intrepid Travel Managing Director APAC Sarah Clark also adds that there is pent-up demand for travel within Australia by Australians.

“We know that the average consumer will have a decreased disposable income due to economic constraints and increased unemployment. However, Australians love to travel.

There has already been so much interest in intrastate travel, getting out of main cities into regional areas, and this will continue interstate alongside border restrictions relaxing,” she says.

“We have seen interest in the new trips in the week since launch, especially for travel into September, October and beyond.

“In 2020, The Whitsundays will be the new Croatia and Tasmania the new Scandinavia. People will adjust and adapt, and the desire to travel and experience new places will continue.”

Australia travel
Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays Islands, QLD. Image: Tourism Australia

With Intrepid’s standard revenue source switched off – every dollar counts.

“We have treated the launch of our new range with a startup mentality. Paying on the cost of acquisition is an important strategy for us versus big brand advertising,” Sarah notes. “We need to be agile with our approach to partnership and audience reach.”

Travel and retail partnerships are also a key part of the distribution mix, as well as Intrepid’s channels and the strength of the brand and website.

“We do have a large customer base within Australia and have started engaging and introducing them to travelling closer to home.

“The range is also low carbon footprint, 100% carbon offset and is built to support local communities. People will resonate with this concept right across Australia,” Sarah says.

Intrepid’s new Australia trips

Intrepid has added a road trip to its new program that specifically visits the bush-fire affected areas of the Blue Mountains and Southern Highlands in NSW.

“We will be quite seasonal. As Australia is such a large country, there are better times to visit specific areas and times when you simply can’t travel to some regions,” Sarah explains. “For example, the Kakadu season ends in October and Tasmania will kick off then.

“Right now, a lot of Southern Australia wants to head north for some warmth. We have only launched phase one of the product range as a test in the market and are looking to launch phase two in the coming month, focused on active adventures and enhancing our new retreats range.”

Nicole’s tips for travel operators returning to work

  • Your teams will be under increased pressure, so make sure you are setting your people up for success and having regular, meaningful one-on-one conversations and not just assuming they are okay. What does support look like, sound like and feel like from you as their leader?
  • Many staff will have been personally affected by COVID-19. Take the time to recognise this and understand each individual’s situation is different and that cookie-cut responses won’t work for the whole team.
  • Be honest with your teams about the challenges the business faces and the changes you need to make to ensure its long-term viability.
  • Value your staff’s input. Remember it takes a village to raise a tribe, so don’t think your teams don’t have golden ideas.
  • Create opportunities so your people know there is a future within the business. Leaders create leaders, so take the time to understand your team’s strengths and how they can be leveraged.
  • Consumers will want to book with confidence, so make sure your booking terms are flexible and supportive of the current environment.
  • Think about what your business branding is going to look and feel like after this. How is your level of consulting going to elevate and allow you to stand out from others?

Not sure where to start? These 24 luxury escapes will make for a perfect Australian getaway.

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