By Bruce Piper
In the last few weeks we have seen some amazingly good news for the Australian travel and tourism sectors. The peak of the Omicron wave which held us in its thrall over the Christmas period has passed, with hospitalisation rates better than the most optimistic projections. The Prime Minister has announced that from next week we will once again open Australia’s doors to international tourists. And although the biosecurity ban was extended for two months, the announcement came with a significant shift in attitude pushing the responsibility for a cruise restart onto the states.
With all that positivity around, why do many of us still feel so down? Why are we wallowing in despondency when we have the opportunity to finally lift our heads and look forward to a brighter future? Sadly I think it’s because we’re a little bit like a whipped dog – having been repeatedly beaten and battered by the pounding waves of the COVID-19 storm, we have been conditioned not to expect any improvement.
Unfortunately there are grounds for feeling like this, because many of the industry’s customers are probably feeling the same way, at least when it comes to plans for travel. Even the most seasoned road warriors – or addicted leisure travellers – are biding their time, after the disappointment of repeated cancellations and deferrals of holidays. And due to the “competitive federalism” model under which Australia operates (who knew we actually weren’t a single sovereign nation?) the same hesitancy even applies to domestic travel in the minds of some, who are now more cautious about crossing state and territory borders because of the ham-fisted approach to closures taken by some of our leaders. (Note my studious avoidance of any controversy by omitting directly mentioning Western Australia, which continues to destroy industry livelihoods by its blinkered, philistine approach – oops!)
Contrary to the perception of Governments across the country, these recent announcements, while certainly a massive improvement to the previous situation, don’t provide immediate assistance to the travel and tourism industry. Many inbound operators have described a welcome surge in enquiry from international wholesalers who, now that there is some certainty about their customers being able to come into Australia once again, are looking at making bookings for the 2022/23 summer period. Welcome news indeed, but that doesn’t help the cashflow right now, and sadly we’ve seen some iconic businesses like the Parker Travel Collection and Swagman Tours placed into administration in just the last couple of months, despite the positive signs for the industry. Many others must be hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and forward bookings nine months away don’t put food on the table right now.
Having said all that, I believe the industry needs to lead the way in putting our best foot forward and focusing on recovery. As we all know, a key driver for the entire travel and tourism ecosystem is confidence – consumer confidence, as people book holidays and future travel when they feel “rich” because their superannuation or property assets have grown; and business confidence, as companies invest in growth as they see the potential for new markets or expanded operations.
Being confident about the future creates a “virtuous cycle” for the industry, because as people spend on travel they in turn create prosperity and confidence for suppliers and distributors, which then leads to more new products, competition and innovation, which then encourages even more travel.
A very wise friend once told me, in relation to stock market announcements by listed companies, that things are never as good as they say – but they’re also never as bad as they say. So if you’re feeling a little despondent today, why not try to “fake it until you make it” – project a positive, confident outlook. When someone asks how you’re going, do your best to give a glass half full response – because however we feel right now, there’s no doubt that, as the old song goes, “things can only get better”.