By Peter Shelley, Managing Director, Australian Tourism Export Council
IT’S hard to imagine that 50 years ago Australia’s tourism industry was a disparate collection of tourism businesses with little exposure to international visitors. Intrepid travellers had to cobble together itineraries from afar not knowing whether they would be able to successfully travel from one city to another, let alone deep into regional Australia’s areas with any confidence. What awaited them at the end of a long flight was largely uncharted territory.
It was at that time a small number of inbound tourism operators decided to band together and create a coordinated approach, working to grow the opportunity that international visitors offered and from this desire the Australian Incoming Tour Operators Association (AITOA), ATEC’s former identity, was born in 1972. By 1979, that opportunity had grown considerably to reach 800,000 arrivals off the back of a coordinated approach to attracting and servicing international visitors in partnership with the recently formed Australian Tourist Commission (which later became Tourism Australia).
AITOA’s inaugural Symposium conference posed the question – ‘Does Australia really want inbound tourism?’ Given our inbound visitor numbers have grown exponentially across the 50 years to reach a height of 9.4M short term visitors and delivering $59bn in inbound tourism expenditure by 2019, it seems the answer to that question was a resounding ‘Yes!’. And it seems remarkable that in a wholly globalised society where travel is becoming almost universally accessible, we ever contemplated a time without foreign visitors.
The value of our tourism industry is undeniable, but the importance of the export sector is often overlooked as a vital factor which keeps the wheels turning. Without international visitors, many of our tourism businesses wouldn’t survive domestic off-seasons, many of our favourite and most renowned regional destinations would not have visitors and staff and those communities wouldn’t have the vital economic input that tourism offers. The truth is domestic travel relies on a symbiotic relationship with international visitation and together they provide over $100bn in tourism spending to regional economies across Australia.
As ATEC moves through its 50th year celebrations we are engaging with members across our 8 regional branches to define the key ‘go forward’ issues which will underpin the future of inbound success. By undertaking a series of ‘Building Back Inbound’ roundtable discussions with our members we are looking to bring together issues from across the country to strengthen our industry into the future.
Addressing the sustainability challenge in our own businesses as well as the impact of sustainability on long haul flights over time, distribution technology and how to streamline the distribution process to ensure ‘less touch, less costs, less friction’ will be central to our future. A focus on achieving the best traveller user experience, removing impediments to travel like antiquated, unfriendly and unwelcoming visa processes along with the increasing burden of additional taxes and charges being lumped onto to international visitors that are eroding our competitiveness as a travel destination will form the basis of our purpose and advocacy.
As we move beyond the pandemic and rebuild our industry, we face new challenges and opportunities and the chance to really build back inbound in a truly forward focused and valuable way.