The post-COVID-19 recovery phase has led to a surge in interest for private small group touring in Australia and New Zealand for AAT Kings Group, says the company’s CEO.
“Our charter team has never been busier with quotes,” newly appointed Matthew Cameron-Smith told LATTE this week. “What we are seeing, right across the suite of experiences is a sharp increase in enquiries for private groups. That could be two or three families as a small group travelling together, and that could be to control the environment – knowing who they are travelling with, what it is they wish to see and have fun together.”
Enquiries have included taking over set departures across the AAT Kings Group stable of brands, which includes its luxury, experiential small group touring arm Inspiring Journeys and its namesake, AAT Kings. People are wanting sole-use of tours “or customising something similar and tailoring it a little bit in terms of what the group wants,” Cameron-Smith said. “But there’s certainly been an increase in demand.”
Tasmania, Western Australia, the Northern Territory, North Queensland and wine country in South Australia, including Kangaroo Island, are of most interest.
Cameron-Smith said that all enquiries have come through agency partners, many of which were looking at alternative domestic options for groups that might have been planning to go to Europe or the US this year.
“Those people still want to travel but they can’t go to those destinations and so the agents are re-engaging with their databases.”
“I think for right now and for the foreseeable future there is this huge opportunity for our agency partners to really engage with domestic and understand that you can make good money out of it. There’s amazing things to do. We’re very fortunate to be on this big Island while this mess is going on.”
He said that New Zealand enquiry levels were “off the chart”, adding that “we just can’t fulfil it until those borders are open”.
Cameron-Smith believes that once approved, the trans-Tasman alliance (bubble) is “going to be very powerful for us… Australia and New Zealand is all we do and all we’ve ever done in 100 years of business.”
“As soon as we know what date that is I think it will be off and running. The starter’s gun will go, and that’s what we are all waiting for!” he said enthusiastically.
Expansion of The Travel Corporation’s domestic guided holidays
This month The Travel Corporation (TTC) brand unveiled it would be rolling out a new domestic guided holidays collection in Australia and New Zealand for sister travel companies including Insight Vacations and Trafalgar, with AAT Kings Group providing the ground services. Trips will operate for a maximum of 22 guests and to meet social distance requirements, rows of seats will be blocked out and new contactless hand sanitiser dispensers installed across its fleet of vehicles.
Cameron-Smith revealed to LATTE that TTC had been considering expanding its domestic offering through existing partner brands for “some time”. It was the acquisition of SEIT Outback Australia – a high-end, small group day touring operator that specialises in indigenous and experiential experiences around Uluru – that moved the concept forward.
“We saw the opportunity to focus on domestic and use our resources, contracting and footprint – we’re now the largest land-based touring company in this part of the world – and we thought what a great time to introduce Insight Vacations to the domestic market.”
Two years ago the former Trafalgar Australia Managing Director also introduced an Australian program to the domestic market, which he says has been performing well and with Insight this is a new opportunity; “necessity is the mother of invention”, he quipped.
Insight’s program will comprise five brand-new “mono-state” itineraries focused on regional Australia, differing from the existing inbound itinerary which visits multiple states. The trips will be around a week in duration and focused on Insight Vacations’ culinary (food & wine, fine dining, farm-to-table) experiences.
“For example in South Australia it’s all about the Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and the Barossa, or it’s all about Western Australia, or all about Tasmania…. we think that’s an important message around travellers.”
He said the SA five-day tour would include visits to the Adelaide Markets, Seppeltsfield, Maggie Beer’s farm, a long-table lunch at St. Hugos, Penfolds, d’Arenberg Cube and plenty of other uniquely South Australian experiences.
Reigniting the passion to explore Australia’s backyard
For the trade, Cameron-Smith said the program was a way to say “we hear you, we get it”.
“We’re designing these trips with you in mind and what we are hoping will happen is that it will reignite not just the interstate traffic, when we can do that, but reignite the people that live in that particular area and their love for their own backyard.”
“When I first took this role 15 months ago it was amazing to see how many people said to me: Uluru, I can’t wait to get there. It’s always been on my bucket list and I will go one day, but first I’ve got to do this, this and this. Well, today is the day.”
“You’ll never feel more welcome than you will right now, particularly in regional Australia, and the industry can certainly help itself by really focusing on talking to our respective clients and encouraging them to explore Australia and New Zealand,” he concluded.
The Travel Corporations’ new domestic guided holiday programs will be released in coming days in e-brochure formats to enable travel advisors to promptly disseminate to clients.
Lead image: Uluru Base Walk | image credit: Inspiring Journeys