Clients cash in COVID credits on high-end domestic travel

Phil Hoffmann Travel GM Michelle Ashcroft reveals current booking trends

Australia’s iconic overland rail journeys have proven to be a magnet for the domestic holiday market limited by the pandemic-induced overseas travel ban. Numerous retail travel agencies have reported high demand for rail trips to LATTE in recent months, such as the Indian Pacific and the Ghan. Among those agencies is South Australia’s Phil Hoffmann Travel (PHT).

Michelle Ashcroft, General Manager, Phil Hoffmann Travel

Michelle Ashcroft, General Manager of the award-winning retail travel company, says the Ghan and the new Great Southern Explorer are of particular interest to clients wanting to travel later in 2020.

Ashcroft told LATTE this week the destination and the style of holiday rail travel offers, combined with “great food and local experiences,” are of great appeal to Phil Hoffmann Travel’s clientele. The luxury Platinum class travel product available on the Ghan, Indian Pacific and Great Southern are in high demand.

Ashcroft said there has been a definite increase in domestic luxury holiday interest – and bookings – in recent weeks, with pent up demand from clients wanting to “get away with a feeling of ‘we deserve this time and luxury’ after the impact of the last few months.”

However, client confidence remains a sticky point. Ashcroft said there is still a level of hesitation among customers, strongly reflecting on government advice and media coverage.

“We were certainly seeing a good increase in enquiries and bookings, particularly for local and interstate travel, but this has pulled back since Victoria’s coronavirus cases have spiked. As government responds to spikes and travellers get used to the ‘new normal’ we expect enquiries to grow and remain steady.”

The Indian Pacific - Platinum cabin by day

“There is definitely pent up demand for travel, but consumers are needing to feel safe before committing to making their booking – in relation to both health and financial security should their travel be affected by conditions outside of their control.

“We have seen a huge boost in intrastate travel and now with the opening of interstate borders many clients are taking close to home holidays in 2020 and 2021, and we are also seeing clients rebooking international destinations for the second half of 2021 and into 2022,” she said.

Other South Australia destinations that clients are enquiring about for the remainder of 2020 include Kangaroo Island, Murray River Cruises and wine region getaways “which are an easy sell with so much to offer so close to home.”

Beyond SA’s borders, Queensland and the Northern Territory’s reopening to interstate travellers has garnered “a great response”. Further north and into 2021, Broome and the Kimberley – particularly Kimberley coastal cruising – continues to be “very popular”.

Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island | image credit: Heidi Who Photos

High-end domestic experiences and eco safaris, particularly those available in South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, are driving demand as well as driving holidays in Tasmania and five-star touring across the board, Ashcroft added.

The GM confirmed that many clients who had their existing travel plans cancelled by the pandemic had now used their credit to rebook holidays within Australia, with the Kimberley region “a standout”, along with European River Cruising in 2021.

“There are still many clients with credits that can be transferred to a domestic experience, and this presents the opportunity to upgrade their experience given the higher value. Most clients will still travel overseas when the time is right, so this allows them to use their credit now while dreaming of their overseas travel.”

Most intrastate and domestic travel is within 90 days, and Phil Hoffman Travel has witnessed growing demand over the Christmas and school holiday periods.

“Certainly overseas travel outside of New Zealand and the Pacific is  six to 12 months-plus away.”

Ashcroft said that during the travel slowdown PHT’s communication with its clients has been consistent and transparent with care.

“We ensure we are their point of communication for information and truth and are focused on building their confidence. We have been in campaign with The world is waiting… when you’re ready, we are here for you”. We have also balanced the dreaming phase with what clients can book now, and encourage engagement on our social channels.”

Asked by LATTE about growth opportunities in the luxury leisure segment, Ashcroft signalled the small-ship luxury cruising sector, with fewer passengers and crew on board and the ability to access smaller regions is building great confidence with PHT’s clients.

“We certainly see wellbeing, walking and cycling holidays, spa retreats, cooking schools and general experiential and immersive travel as a huge opportunity, as well as travel for groups of family and friends where they do not have to share space with others, such as villa stays, private yachting experiences, private touring and more.

“If we can provide a connection between clients and the world with confidence, we will continue to rebuild!” Ashcroft concluded.

Lead image: The Indian Pacific – Rawlinna Dinner Under the Stars

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