Letter from Perth: Australia’s Tourism Prospects
By James Ruggia
June 28, 2012 11:45 PM
Tourism has never been a simple game of arrival numbers for Australia. “The UNWTO has shown that we are 48th in arrivals out of 180 countries, seventh in receipts and first in spend per visitor,” says Andrew McEvoy, Tourism Australia’s managing director. “Australia is a high yield destination.”
At a time when countries are having a difficult time attracting the trade to their travel shows, Australia’s major show, the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE), seems stronger than ever.The 33rd annual ATE (June 15-21) in Perth attracted some 700 buyers from 40 odd countries around the world. ATE featured two separate modules covering the Eastern and Western hemisphere tourism markets.
In late 2010, Tourism Australia unveiled the 2020 Tourism Industry Potential report that set a goal of doubling overnight expenditures generated by tourism from $70 billion to $140 billion by 2020.These are ambitious goals for a country that’s seen its market share grow only modestly due to a strong Australian dollar and an increase in competition from Southeast Asia and South Africa, especially. Low-cost airlines also have undermined Australia’s domestic market, one of its core strengths, with low fares to such islands as Bali and Phuket. South Africa has increasingly competed for travelers seeking a combination of wilderness, sophistication, food and wine. In 2011, 5.9 million foreign visitors came to Australia, a decline of 0.2 percent from 2010.
As Australia’s fourth most valuable tourism market, the U.S. contributed $2.2 billion to the country in 2011.China, the top earner, contributed $3.8 billion. “The U.S. is the third largest source of visitors to Australia,” says McEvoy, who believes the potential for U.S. visitors by 2020 could be worth between $4.5 billion and $5.5 billion. In 2011, 456,200 Americans visited Australia, down 3.4 percent from 2010. They stayed an average of 24 days, a number that was increased by student and VFR travel. The average spend is $5,970 and here’s a 45 percent repeat rate from the U.S.
North America is one of four Category 1 regions that are worth more than $5 billion in the 2020 plan.The other countries are China, Australia and the U.K. In the U.S., as in other markets, Tourism Australia chooses a single niche that it feels has the most potential and in the U.S. that niche features travelers who will “overcome the barriers of time, distance and cost,” McEvoy says. They are affluent travelers who are over 45 who are leading a recovery in the U.S. market for Australia. “That market just isn’t affected by the current economic down turn,” McEvoy says. “U.S. arrivals are projected to rise 5 percent this year and their spend is up 6 percent.”
To continue to reach the affluent American traveler, Tourism Australia needs to identify and lift the profile of the country’s best features.“You lead with your best,” says Nick Baker, executive general manager of consumer marketing for Tourism Australia. The tactical tool for doing that is Tourism Australia’s “Best of Australia” program, which highlights the very best the country has to offer under particular headings such as indigenous product, golf and the two latest categories to emerge, wineries and walks.
“It’s about accentuating what’s unique in Australia,” says Leigh Sorenson, Tourism Australia’s manager of industry development. “We have six of the world’s top 100 golf courses, but we don’t have a market profile among golfers that reflects that fact. Our new website will help our partners create great golf itineraries.”
“The Best of Australia program is great because it and things like the Luxury Lodges program are letting Americans know what’s down her,” says Ian Swain, president of Swain Tours. “Australia offers a lot more than just friendly people.”
Yet another program, Australia’s National Landscapes focuses on the Australian wilderness and in doing so hopes to both protect and encourage visitation to some 9,000 parks and reserves.There are 16 highlighted regions in the program including such iconic regions as the Great Barrier Reef, the Kimberley, Ningaloo Shark Bay, Kangaroo Island, the Red Center, the Blue Mountains, the Greater Ocean Road and Tasmania.
Beyond such programs, Australia also is boosting standards for travel and tourism. T-QUAL, for example, is a government-run accreditation program that issues the T-QUAL Tick sign for businesses that meet the highest standards.T-QUAL companies are rated according to such criteria as customer service, professionalism, accurate advertising and compliance with health and safety standards. There are currently 13,000 rated businesses across Australia and the program is designed to help consumers find quality tourism products easier and to help Tourism Australia’s trade partners find the best companies to work with.
Then there’s the Indigenous Tourism Champions Program run by both Tourism Australia and Indigenous Business Australia.Forty-four indigenous businesses are designated as “champions” that meet the government’s standards. For champion Neville Poelina, owner of the Kimberley’s Uptuyu Tours, tourism offers his people an opportunity for a good living so they remain on their land. “Tourism is a way for me to keep my children on the land,” Poelina says. “Tourism can help me keep my culture alive and explain to people who we are. You can’t find a better host than the original owners of the land.”
James Ruggia is executive editor covering Pacific Asia and Europe for TravelPulse.com. This is the first of three columns from the Australian Tourism Exchange in Perth.