A June 23 Facebook Live chat co-hosted by TravelAge West and Tourism Australia shared the latest travel updates from the land Down Under.
The discussion, which was moderated by Kenneth Shapiro (TravelAge West’s vice president/publisher and Editor-in-Chief), included Chris Allison, head of commercial partnerships Americas for Tourism Australia; John Daw, executive officer of Australian Wildlife Journeys; and Craig Wickham, owner and managing director of Exceptional Kangaroo Island and chair of Australian Wildlife Journeys. Shapiro and Allison joined the virtual chat from Los Angeles, while Daw and Wickham dialed in from Adelaide and Kangaroo Island in Australia, respectively.
Although international travel to Australia is still highly restricted and international borders remain closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Allison says the country’s residents have done an excellent job in adhering to the restrictions, flattening the curve and working toward eradicating the virus.
As various Australian states begin to reopen their borders in the coming weeks, domestic travel is set to recover before international travel, Allison said.
“It will be a little while before we can start welcoming back international visitors,” he said. “But we are already seeing some positive impacts on the domestic tourism industry at this stage.”
He noted that state governments determine the restrictions for hotels and attractions, and many focus on heavy sanitization — particularly in public places — and making the experiences as contactless as possible. Guests visiting hotels may also notice a migration toward a more traditional dining experience with waiter service in lieu of buffets.
“There’s nothing significantly different from what we are reading about in other parts of the world,” Allison said. “For our operators, it’s about making sure they can provide comfort and assurance to customers that when they do come, they’ll be able to do so safely.”
There’s nothing significantly different from what we are reading about in other parts of the world. For our operators, it’s about making sure they can provide comfort and assurance to customers that when they do come, they’ll be able to do so safely.
A benefit for U.S. visitors to Australia, Shapiro noted, is that they often pair time in the cities with time outdoors (although Australia compares to the U.S. in land mass, it is much less-densely populated, with only 25 million residents).
“We have an abundance of outdoor environments to get lost in, feel safe in, and feel spaced out in while experiencing something quite unique,” Allison said.
Small-group activities to “out-of-the-way places” are especially popular for clients booking with Australian Wildlife Journeys, according to Daw.
“We thought it was a trend even before the pandemic,” Daw said. “Americans are wanting to see wildlife in the wild on a safari-like experience. But it’s also about solitude and that escape; people want to reconnect with nature.”
And travel advisors will likely see an uptick in demand for this type of touring, Wickham added.
“One thing Australia has recognized about the post-COVID-19 world is that a cohort of people who would be traveling together anyway don’t have to abide by the same social distancing,” he said. “For private family groups, they can travel exactly as they did pre-COVID-19.”
And tours that include interaction with Australia’s unique wildlife will be especially popular with U.S. tourists once travel resumes, Wickham added, including snorkeling with whale sharks; visiting with koalas and kangaroos; or seeing species endemic to the area, such as Australian fur seals and echidnas.
Australia’s Wildfire Recovery
The Aussie experts also gave an update on the continent’s recent wildfires and recovery efforts.
“Quite ironically, the shutdown means that the pressure in some of the most popular places has been taken off, and the natural recovery has been completely unimpeded by foot traffic,” Wickham said. “The wildfire situation is a natural part of what nature experiences. But this last [round] was a bit more widespread and intense than what we’ve traditionally found.”
Quite ironically, the shutdown means that the pressure in some of the most popular places has been taken off, and the natural recovery has been completely unimpeded by foot traffic.
Conservation groups have been monitoring the situation, and citizen-led initiatives have been embraced by the continent’s population as a way to share information and help each other out, he added. For example, groups of winemakers donated wine to raise funds for wineries impacted by the fires, and BlazeAid has established a mobile workforce providing hands-on recovery efforts to distressed areas.
Many local tour operators are also joining the citizen science initiative by tracking what’s happening along the perimeter of the fire-burned areas.
“In the longer term, it’s really the protection of those habitats that is the key issue,” Wickham said. “It’s an important thing to study, and a lot of scientists don’t have the resources to do it themselves. And who better to collect this information than the tourism operators that are out there on a daily basis?”
Other initiatives include tracking bird populations, re-establishing habitats and planting trees.
Daw predicts that recovery efforts may be integrated into itineraries for international guests in the long-term. For example, guests may opt to forego a visit to a koala hospital and incorporate a visit to Victoria’s You Yangs or Raymond Island to assist with Koala Recovery Experiences provided by Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours, which provides an easy way for guests to get engaged with the marsupials in the wild.
Travel advisors who want to learn more about Australia are encouraged to sign up for Tourism Australia’s Aussie Specialist program (which has more than 20 virtual training modules). The program provides information about the continent’s various destinations, and how to attend virtual fam trips or become certified as a qualified specialist.
Aussie Specialist Program
Australian Wildlife Journeys
Exceptional Kangaroo Island