Qantas CMO Jo Boundy has told an audience of travel industry leaders that while COVID-19 left QANTAS pretty close to the bottom of the pile in terms of winners and losers, the Australian travel industry is pretty well placed.
Speaking on a panel with fellow industry heavy weights, metaphorically speaking of course, Phillipa Harrison MD, Tourism Australia, Sarina Bratton, Chairman Asia Pacific, Ponant, Chris Hall Group Managing Director, APH Group, Boundy told the audience without a doubt the biggest challenge the industry faced was erratic border closures.
“Just to shed some more light on that: We have a border manual that we update on a regular basis in terms of where people can and can’t go. We’re up to version 182 manual to give you a sense of the complexity that creates for tourism.”
Ponant’s Bratton said in the short term, her biggest problem was convincing the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (the key decision-making committee for health emergencies comprised of all state and territory Chief Health Officers and chaired by the Australian Chief Medical Officer) that expedition cruising is safe in Australia, particularly when we’re still living with COVID.
“You know, in Europe, we’ve operated 60 expeditions over the last summer in Europe, whilst the pandemic was quite aggressive. Yet, it’s still very difficult for us to get the AHPPC to sign off on a lot of those protocols.”
Longer term, Bratton said, it’s more about making sure that her company is nimble and able to take advantage of the changes that we’re seeing happening. “I’ll give you an example is that we see a lot of people talking about booking 2023 product, etc. We’re actually still changing 2021 and 22, even though we’re normally well in advance with release with that. Because we’re looking at what are the changes? What are the trends? Let’s be positioned for that. So that’s very important to us is to enable us to take advantage of those differences. There are new destinations, new experiences coming out. And also potential acquisitions.”
TA’s Phillipa Harrison said consumer confidence was a big issue. In the short term, there’s lots of demand there, but people are just going to be a little bit more conservative in their choices. “And what that does, is it doesn’t help all of the industry players that are further away, interstate, that rely heavily on international travel that are really hurting at the moment. It really is a tale of two cities: best of times, worst of times.”
APH’s Hall, who was himself a victim of last-minute border closures and only beamed into the panel virtually from Melbourne, said the loss of skilled workers from the industry was another concerning trend.
Perversely, Harrison said some of Australia’s biggest hurdles to attracting international travellers, time, distance and cost, may no longer be such a big issue in a post-Covid world. “We’ve actually seen through this pandemic, that people find us as a better value for money place because they will invest in a good holiday that is going to be safe for them. And they will travel further because we have wide-open spaces and we have the sort of things that they are going to be looking for in a post COVID world.
Speaking of the resumption of international travel, Harrison thought “it’s going to be super patchy for a while. And the reason I think that is because there’s still going to be a lot of friction to travel. So, it’s not like on one January 2022, the borders are going to fling open and we’re going to go back to where we were. We have to build up our aviation capacity. You know, people are going to travel a little closer to home for a while, they’re still probably going to be some sort of quarantining or you know, some sort of friction in the travel journey. So, we will find that some cohorts or groups like working holiday makers or visiting friends and relatives groups will take a bit of that friction, but for the leisure two week holiday makers, that’s a difficult sell.”
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