Wednesday, October 21, 2020
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Surge in domestic travel, but will it save the Australian tourism industry?

Surge in domestic travel, but will it save the Australian tourism industry?
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Australians forced to scrap overseas holidays have ditched the azure waters of the Amalfi Coast for the ancient canyons of the Pilbara, abandoning autobahns for outback highways.

Trapped on home soil — and many in their own states — people are flocking to explore their own backyards, creating a spike in domestic tourism.

The surge in interest has seen flash cars zipping from Brisbane into western Queensland, an area typically visited by grey nomads in campervans and international tourists.

“We’ve got Porches, Mustangs, Ferraris … I even saw a Rolls Royce out here about six weeks ago,” chief executive of the Outback Queensland Tourism Association, Denise Brown said.

Ms Brown said the “enormous spike”, which had left most hotels nearly full, had also been fuelled by travellers from north Queensland and the Sunshine and Gold Coasts.

Outback Queensland Tourism Association chief executive Denise Brown says domestic travellers are ready to spend.(ABC Longreach: Ellie Grounds)

Domestic travel in WA isn’t cheap, but discounted flights have helped many West Australians explore a slice of the state that’s sometimes too expensive to see.

Perth resident Hannah Docherty, 25, had booked a Europe trip in July, but instead embarked on a road trip to Exmouth and Karijini — the state’s second largest National park — in the Pilbara.

“I’d already booked the leave for Europe — obviously that was cancelled,” Ms Docherty said.

“So I was super keen to get away, and, obviously after lockdown, I was so desperate to get out of the city and explore a bit of the state while we had the opportunity.

A girl with bright red sunnies stands in front of a vibrant yellow canola crop
Perth resident Hannah Docherty says she went on a road trip after her European holiday was cancelled.(Supplied)

Can domestic tourism fill the void?

International tourists injected a whopping $30 billion into the Australian economy last year, according to Regional Australia Institute chief economist Kim Houghton.

A car travels along highway near Broken Hill outback
Australians forced to cancel overseas holiday plans have been heading to the outback instead.(Supplied: David Flannery)

But he thinks the recent interest is more of a “spike” than a long-term trend.

“I’m certainly not suggesting everywhere is booming. That’s not the case at all,” Mr Houghton said.

“But it is if you are in one of those hotspot [tourist] areas, particularly in WA … I think Queensland will probably move second.”

A man in a suit stands in the middle of the frame looking down the lens.
Economist Terry Rawnsley says the winding down of Jobkeeper is a “real danger time” for tourism businesses.(ABC Rural: Clint Jasper)

Recent data from WA Tourism showed locals weren’t coming close to filling the gap on their own.

But it’s hoped interstate visitors might in future.

SGS Economics and Planning’s Terry Rawnsley described the current situation as a “sugar hit” for tourism operators, and said businesses should capitalise on the sudden interest.

“Some domestic tourists just aren’t that aware of what Australia has to offer,” Mr Rawnsley said.

He said places like Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, WA’s Margaret River — and when restrictions eased — Victoria’s Alpine region and Surf Coast would be able to attract short-term visitors from the cities on weekends.

But, Mr Rawnsley said, those regions with an offering further away, and more directly focussed on international travellers, faced a much tougher outlook.

“For instance, Kangaroo Island, which is a bit further away and doesn’t have a domestic base to draw off, will find it difficult going forward,” he said.

Businesses on “life support”

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In Tasmania, Greg Price has been offering bus tours for backpackers for more than a decade.

In a good year, he’d have 2000 international guests heading out on trips, but he hasn’t run a tour since March.

“Our tours are very much designed for people who haven’t been in Australia very much,” Mr Price said.

“So you know, national parks, wildlife and some of those things that Australians might take a bit for granted.”

He said his business was on “life support” through Jobkeeper and that it couldn’t be revived unless international borders reopened.

Mr Price said in comparison to domestic visitors, overseas travellers spread their money far and wide through consumption of goods such as food and beverages.

Tourism operators desperately want international border to re-open
Tasmanian tour operator Greg Brown says normally he’d be hosting 2000 international guests in a year.(Supplied)

“International guests tend to stay for a lot longer,” he said.

“So they come to Tasmania and they’re thinking about staying for seven to 10 days, whereas locals or even interstate visitors, they’re just thinking a weekend or a long weekend.

The award-winning entrepreneur is worried the tourism industry will suffer more down the track as well-trained employees look elsewhere for more secure employment.

 A man with a backpack walks through the bush.
Tourism operators are concerned the industry will lose its “best talent” due to international border closures.(Supplied)

“The biggest problem is that [the] industry’s going to start losing its best people because, I guess, you can’t blame them,” he said.

“Just last week, one of my last staffers handed in his notice, and he’s going to work somewhere else, and cited uncertainty in tourism.

“And even transport and tourism operators will look at that, because if you’ve invested all this money in your business and it’s not doing anything, then eventually you have to take that out and do something else.”

Economist Terry Rawnsley said the winding down of JobKeeper was a “real danger time” for tourism businesses heavily dependent on international arrivals.

The changes that passed earlier this month, will see the fortnightly payment for full-time employees decrease from $1,500 to $1,200 on September 28.

“JobKeeper has kept them solvent for the last six months, stepping it down over the next few months is going to create some real challenges,” Mr Rawnsley said.



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