By Peter Shelley, Managing Director, Australian Tourism Export Council
Some of Australia’s biggest drawcards for international visitors are our nature, adventure, immersive and heritage experiences. These are ‘clusters’ of experiences which Tourism Australia has identified as the things travellers are seeking when they choose an Australian holiday.
Increasingly we are seeing visitors, and particularly ‘high net worth’ travellers looking for a more engaged experience with a focus on indigenous connection and sustainable destinations and more than half of all travellers are excited to come and see our natural wonders.
Central to almost any inbound itinerary are the rock, the reef and the Opera House. In such a big country the distance between these three icons makes it challenging to navigate and experience.
One of the keys to doing this successfully is having reliable transport and great tour guides, but like many other areas of the economy there is a huge shortage of qualified and available staff. There are significant shortages of staff across most tourism providers, including airlines and driver guides, as well as language tour guides which are critical in bringing the experience to life for non-English speaking international visitors. Given these staff are at the front line of our industry, directly influencing the experience of our guests, they are an important workforce asset to nurture.
ATEC recently undertook a research project to map the shortage and find ways to help build a more sustainable and reliable supply of quality tour guides. The research made some strong recommendations including the linking of training with industry and business to consolidate various existing tour guide training programs.
What ATEC has been advocating for, and one of the things we believe the industry needs to counter some of the challenges in the short term, is adding tour guides and coach drivers to the skilled migration list.
Operators need an agile workforce solution to meet the peaks and troughs of seasonal demand along with specific language guides who can speak to different markets. Right now, we have a significant labour force shortage and we are a way off finding a localised solution so providing short-term, external, skilled labour supply is a logical approach to ensure we continue to deliver a quality tourism product for our guests.
To ensure the complete recovery of our tourism export industry, we must elevate our efforts on the supply side issues which impact the delivery of experiences as the growth in international visitors continues to evolve. Yes, we need to ensure our marketing continues to work on driving demand, however if we fail to rectify some of the most fundamental requirements needed to deliver a quality, authentic Australian experience, then we risk our long-held reputation of being a quality global tourism destination.