- Monday, 12 December 2011 06:43
Article Read: 6017
Travellers will be able to easily recognise quality Australian tourism experiences with a new national symbol – the T-QUAL Tick- or at least that is the view of the minister for tourism, Martin Ferguson.
"Australia is a world-class tourism destination and we want to build on our reputation by ensuring Australia's 226 million domestic and international travellers have the best possible travel experience by knowing which accommodation, attractions and/or dining options have been through the rigorous, truly national accreditation process to receive the T-QUAL Tick," Mr Ferguson said.
But, in a curious move, T-QUAL is to be linked to the nemesis of the accommodation industry worldwide, TripAdvisor. Itself wracked with PR gaffs, court actions and the inability to ensure comments posted on its site are legitimate, TripAdvisor seems an odd bedfellow for a quality assurance program. Some accommodation operators are concerned that the T-QUAL program is leaving itself wide-open to criticism – both legitimate and created.
Mr Ferguson refutes this, "TripAdvisor is the world's largest universal travel site, used by 44 million consumers globally to plan and book travel. The development of a T-QUAL micro site housed within TripAdvisor's Australian site is the first of its kind between the travel site and a tourism quality assurance program."
Not surprisingly it is the first, according to some.
Accommodation providers Dianne & Terry Hadlow told Accomnews, "After perusing the TripAdvisor web-site, our distinct impression was that they indulge themselves by acting arbitrarily in basing their conclusions and opinions on inequitable comparison, leading to distortion and misrepresentation.
"In this context, we find it worrying that the recently launched T-QUAL accreditation program has endorsed TripAdvisor and is to be aligned with them to the extent that a dedicated T-QUAL micro site will be incorporated into their web-site. Ostensibly, this partnership is to provide the traveling public with a balanced presentation of T-QUAL member offers, who are obliged to 'sign up' with TripAdvisor, to benefit from T-QUAL/Tourism Australia promotions.
"More likely it could invoke a vote of no-confidence in the T-QUAL accreditation program's endorsement and rating system. TripAdvisor Australia should be obliged to publish unedited comment, not indulge in misleading subjective analysis."
Another operator, Jenny Carne, said "I will not put my "Recommended on TripAdvisor" decal in reception. You look at my guest book which is full of rave reviews and then out of the blue you get a disatisfied customer, nothing has been done differently from our end. Some guests just want to inflate their ego and have nothing better to do than to go onto Trip Advisor."
However Mr Ferguson is confident the T-QUAL program will be the key for the future. "The T-QUAL Tick is about differentiating tourism products and services on the basis of quality. T-QUAL businesses have all the required licences and insurances and have committed to a number of standards including risk and environmental management and customer service.
"The T-QUAL Tick gives consumers the choice to book accredited over non-accredited products at every price point in the market. That can mean backpacker accommodation through to luxury cruising or a boutique tour."
Currently, there are 12,500 Australian tourism products with T-QUAL Accreditation via seven Accreditation programs. More tourism accreditation programs are expected to receive the T-QUAL Tick by the Tourism Quality Council of Australia in the coming months.
Also last week the minister unveiled a new strategy to "sharpen Australia's competitive edge" and help the industry achieve its goal of doubling overnight tourism expenditure by 2020.
Tourism 2020 integrates features of the National Long-Term Tourism Strategy with the 2020 Tourism Industry Potential's goal of increasing overnight tourism expenditure from $70 billion to $140 billion by the end of the decade. It represents an "updated response to industry challenges" which Ferguson identified as strong competition from overseas destinations, skills shortages and the strong Australian dollar.
The new strategy will see industry and the government to work together to overcome these challenges and capitalise on forecasted growth in international and domestic visitor nights and projected demand from Asia.
"Opportunities are on the horizon, with the emergence of Asian markets, such as China, India, Indonesia and new ways of reaching those markets, such as increased aviation capacity and growth in online marketing technology," Mr Ferguson said.
The Australian Tourism Export Council welcomed the update but raised concerns over TA's ability to effectively connect with Australia's traditional markets after the funding changes, on top of an efficiency dividend of around $4 million, announced last week.
In addition, ATEC managing director Felicia Mariani stressed that regional tourism must not be overlooked, specifically by plans to increase transport capacity across Australia.
"Any such plan in future must include a commitment to enhance regional dispersal and look at ways to support improvements in regional airport infrastructure to support this," she said.
Meanwhile Tourism Accommodation Australia officially launched last week a five year strategic plan that aims to see its members implement the new star rating and receive T-QUAL accreditation.
TAA managing director Rodger Powell said the group will not only aim to handle political persuasions on behalf of its members but also focus on improving their profiles with recognised education programs and offices in every capital city.
"Our new partnership with AAAT star ratings will provide convenience for accommodation operators who will be able to get both their star rating and T-QUAL accreditation completed by one inspector on one visit. This is all about improving supply-side quality in the Australian market," Mr Powell explained.