Challenging restart ahead for fragile industry

Return of international tourism marks relief but reputation is at risk

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC), while welcoming news that visitors from Japan and South Korea along with Working Holiday Makers which will begin to flow from December 1, says there are some significant challenges ahead.

ATEC managing director, Peter Shelley said Australian tourism businesses, particularly those solely focused on servicing the international visitor market, have been holding tight for the resumption of international travel.

But most notably, he said, the industry is one which is critically understaffed for both skilled and unskilled workers.

“This is going to have an impact on the experience the industry can offer and our reputation for delivering high quality authentic experiences for international visitors may be at risk,” he said. 

“As predicted a great number of tourism workers were laid off and many have moved on to new jobs outside of the industry, leaving tourism operators without a ready workforce to draw on as they begin to ramp back up.   

“Ultimately this will mean restrictions on what tourism operators can offer and their ability to scale up to meet demand as the number of international visitors increases with easing borders restrictions.”

Mr Shelley said that sadly anecdotal evidence suggests border closures and a lack of clarity on what and when international markets will be open is driving workers away from the industry and towards sectors which can offer job security, certainty, and confidence.  

“Tourism operators have no real sense of what volume of business they can expect from post-COVID international travel which is making it even more difficult to commit to upscaling and bringing back staff,” he said, adding that enquiries for travel to Australia over the coming year are increasing but intending travellers have a lot of questions about their journey which need to be resolved.  

“While people are excited at the thought of international travel, most are waiting to see what post-COVID travel will look like and want to be confident they won’t experience last minute disruptions and changes,” he said.  

“In the longer term we can see good signs for recovery with interest and demand from the market, but indications are that many intending leisure travellers will hold off booking in the short term which will mean a slow recovery for our export tourism industry. 

“While we hear there is pent up demand and that Australia continues to be viewed favourably, most inquiries relate to leisure travel from April 2022 onwards.” 

“The current challenge confronting a fragile tourism industry is the need for businesses to invest in the short term in order to convert these enquiries into bookings. These business expenses are being incurred by tourism operators right now for guests who will arrive six months from now and with payment not being made until they have returned home. 

“Managing the gap between expenses incurred and the receipt of payment for a cash-strapped industry will be a bridge too far for some.” 


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