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Industry Under-Prepared for Disasters

Australian accommodation providers are “remarkably underprepared” for natural disasters, delegates to the annual Australian Tourism Export Council symposium on Hamilton Island were told at the weekend.

Associate professor Brent Ritchie from the University of Queensland’s School of Tourism presented new research that looked at the crisis preparedness of 386 accommodation operators nationwide and found they were primarily focused on internal, rather than external risks. He said the problem appeared to be more pronounced with smaller accommodation providers.

“This research sounds an important warning to accommodation businesses to get prepared and not only focus on the internal risks that can be more readily controlled,” said Dr Ritchie.

“It was clear from our research that larger organisations had more capacity to undertake crisis preparation exercises such as drills and scenario planning while smaller organisations were only able to manage the implementation of procedure-based activities such as updating plans, insurance and assessment.”

He said accommodation businesses more than 30 years old had the highest level of crisis planning.

The managing director of ATEC, Felicia Mariani, told delegates that Australia’s tourism industry must learn how to get its message across to the rest of the world. She identified four key issues challenging the growth and sustainability of the industry in Australia.

“We need to create and develop new tourism experiences, establish a co-ordinated plan to grow regional tourism, build a well-qualified and sustainable labour force and learn to navigate the myriad of distribution channels in a global marketplace,” she told the 500 delegates.

“The tourism industry is currently facing significant challenges from our high currency rate, natural disasters and strongly competing products overseas.

“But we have the ability to do better and build an industry that will be sustained and grow into the future.

“ATEC has a key role to play in working with government on behalf of our members to ensure any roadblocks in these areas are removed, and that our members have the best chance of succeeding in what is becoming an increasingly competitive global market.”

The big challenge for Australia is understanding Chinese travellers and adapting to meet the demands of the country’s rapidly expanding wealthy middle class, according to Tourism Australia’s Frances-Anne Keeler.

She told the conference that while the Chinese market was worth $3.2 billion in 2010, by 2020 it’s expected to be worth more than $9 billion. “There was a 24% growth in Chinese arrivals last year, much higher than any other market.”

But Ms Keeler stressed the big challenge for Australian accommodation providers is understanding the Chinese customer.

“China is a huge country with many, many different target audiences and we need to spend time gathering the insight to understand them, work out what it is that’s going to attract them, what they want to do and see when they get here, what they want to eat and then make sure we build a product around that,” she said.

ATEC chairman John King, warned the symposium the industry has to resume leadership of its own destiny.

“When you look back at what I call the golden era of tourism in Australia in the mid-80s through the 90s, the industry was very largely driven by entrepreneurs and governments tended to support that,” Mr King said. “But there’s been almost an acceptance of an increased government role in determining the direction of tourism and I think we need, as an industry, to regain an entrepreneurial spirit and have the industry determine the direction it wants and needs to head in and have government support that direction.”

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