Australian tourism and coronavirus: Domestic travel to drive recovery

It was only a few months ago that tourism was being employed by governments as means of aiding the recovery of bushfire battered communities following the devastation of the so-called "black summer".

Now, thanks to the coronavirus crisis, even the once simple proposition of a holiday itself lies in charred ruins with the only justification for a staycation in even a city hotel being for purposes of self-isolation or quarantine.

Although the national and state tourism marketing bodies have been conspicuous in their silence during the coronavirus crisis, as they and the rest of the industry await an indication as to when any form of travel can resume, domestic tourism may again emerge as an economic "white knight".

Australians spent nearly $80 billion on domestic travel in 2018-19 with the industry supporting 302,500 businesses according to Tourism Research Australia, with as many as one million Australians employed in the various segments of the industry.

It's the form of travel that will almost certainly precede the return of problematic international travel, except for certain overseas destinations deemed by the Federal Government to be "safe" for Australians.

Many local tourism businesses may not survive the impact of the pandemic crisis but those who do, along with their communities in all corners of the country, will benefit enormously from Australians taking a domestic holiday before they head overseas again.

Once the crisis is over, tentative short breaks and intrastate driving trips will be the first types of travel to reemerge, predicts Nick Baker, chief executive of Outdoria, an Australiasian travel and leisure company and a former Tourism Australia chief marketing executive.

Beaches and the bush, now largely off-limits, will likely make a strong return for day-trippers and short break-takers, Mr Baker says, as urban Australians seek to escape the cities to which they have been confined for weeks or months.

Grant Hunt, chief executive of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia, owners of Ayers Rock Resort near Uluru, which has been hit hard by the crisis, believes that "clearly, safe, clean and wholesome destinations" will be in greater demand post covid-19, making Australia even more attractive [as a place to holiday]".

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However, any optimism harboured by Mr Grant is tempered by the unprecedented damage done to the economy by the effects of the pandemic. It will greatly reduce the spending power of many Australians in at least the short-term, rendering a holiday a luxury item.

"We have to remember that about 1.5 million Australians are either out of work or will be by the end of the crisis," Mr Hunt says. "Disposable income for travel will take a while to rebuild. But I expect a steady recovery led by the caravan and camping sector as well as the corporate market.

"City hotels will be very busy again once the [coronavirus] restrictions are lifted. Pent-up demand will fuel leisure travel, firstly at the upper end of the market and then graduating to families and budget markets. Hopefully, people will value and respect the opportunity to travel more."

Mr Hunt says that the trend to more customised and tailored travel will accelerate as travellers appreciate "the richness of immersive experiences" more greatly due to what they were forced to do without.

But some domestic tourism operators aren't waiting for the "green light" from governments for domestic tourism's comeback. Lilypad at Palm Beach, north of Sydney, has created human-contact-free "isolated stay packages" for those "who wish to trade their surroundings whilst self isolating."

The specially curated packages, starting from $3600 for three nights, at the unique and chic floating villa, are inclusive of all meals prepared off-site by its unseen head chef and with beverages including champagne on arrival.

See also: Situation 'dire' as travel industry calls for government help

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