Tourism Australia lauds Virtuoso alliance

"One of our most significant partnerships", says Phillipa Harrison

Tourism Australia has hailed its local arrangement with the Virtuoso luxury travel network as “one of our most significant partnerships”.

The tourism bureau’s Managing Director, Phillipa Harrison, told delegates at this week’s Virtuoso Owner Manager’s Forum in Sydney that the partnership continues to go “from strength to strength” and was looking at future opportunities.

“We haven’t always worked closely with Australia and New Zealand. For me, this is one of the opportunities that has come out of COVID – that we are now working very, very closely together with the Australia and New Zealand Virtuosos.”

Harrison revealed that over 940 Virtuosos had signed up to Tourism Australia’s Aussie Specialist Program. It was launched for the domestic market 11 months ago, with about two-thirds of those Virtuosos having qualified.

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She encouraged members that hadn’t completed the program to do so, saying a range of famils under TA’s Signature Experiences collective had already operated, hinting that more may be in the pipeline.

Harrison also invited Virtuoso members to sign up for next month’s ATE Luxe, being run alongside the mainstream “ATE Live” from 6-9 June at the International Convention Centre Sydney.

Previous Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) events have offered a specialist buyers arm, but this year Tourism Australia is presenting ATE Luxe to enable buyers to hone in on key luxury products they believe will be most beneficial to their business, rather than being part of the wider exchange. So far, 41 Virtuoso buyers have registered to be part of ATE Luxe.

Domestic experiences focus

Over the past 18 months, Tourism Australia has pivoted from an international focus to domestic, aiming to “turn Australians on” about what’s available in our own backyard, the tourism chief said.

Before COVID’s impact, Tourism Australia was outbound-centric, prioritising bringing visitors here.

Marketing material used to promote Tourism Australia's Holiday Here this Year campaign

“As Australians, we have focused on travelling long and far. Yes, we have a domestic holiday, but that’s a little more of a relax and R&R, and then for our big, experiential holidays we go offshore.

“So what we’ve been trying to do with the domestic market is to get Australians to travel in Australia like they do when they go offshore. Or conversely, get them to travel like international travellers do when they get here.”

She said with consumer sentiment currently at its highest point in the past 18 months, “we’re in a good spot.”

People have a lot of money. There is a bit more confidence as we’re finding that the border closures are starting to level out because they have been a massive – as you would know – pain but also an inhibitor of travel.

“I understand why they happen, and I’m certainly not proposing that we do anything other than look at safety first. But the fact is that it really has affected domestic travel. 

We’ve seen that even out over the last couple of months. In fact domestic travel is at a level that was about 10% under pre-COVID levels now so there is a domestic opportunity.”

Harrison said that while TA’s Holiday Here this Year campaign is working at inspiring people to take “big experiential holidays” and return to cities, it is experiences that are still suffering.

“We see that all of the hotels are full but the experiences are sitting there half-empty. We’ve been looking at those points of market failure and trying to really help smooth that out and working in partnership with our travel agent community, and that’s been really important.

“You guys know how to really sell the full experience and really make sure that people, when they go, they don’t half-holiday, they have a whole holiday.”

New Zealand opportunity

The Trans-Tasman bubble with New Zealand presents a new opportunity for Tourism Australia. Harrison said the first few weeks have predominantly seen VFR traffic on flights between Australia and New Zealand, with the leisure market from NZ a “real slow burn”.

“There is an opportunity in New Zealand, as there is in Australia, with Kiwis who usually travel offshore and spend a lot of money going to Europe or to the US to come to Australia and do some really great stuff here. So we are really focusing on that cohort,” she told Forum attendees.

“Before COVID, New Zealand was our second-largest market in terms of arrivals. It drops down to fourth when you look at spend. There is a yield opportunity there and that’s what we’re focusing on for New Zealand.”

TA’s lights remain switched on overseas

Further afield, Harrison said that despite Australia’s hard border preventing inbound tourists for the foreseeable future, the organisation continues to “keep the dream alive” abroad.

“An Australian holiday or experiential holiday, be it inbound or outbound, takes a long time to think about, to pull together, to book, and so all of our offices around the world are still active,” she said.

“We want to make sure that we don’t lose market share over the period that we are closed.

“As you know the rest of the world is starting to open up and they’re starting to travel. So it’s really important that we just make sure that people don’t forget about us, that the demand for Australia is still there, and when the borders do reopen, we’re there.” 

“We know that we have to navigate through this time together and don’t have all the solutions by ourselves, and so we really rely on our industry partners to, shoulder to shoulder, work out how we navigate this and look at what Australian tourism is into the future,” Harrison concluded.

Lead image: Phillipa Harrison, Managing Director, Tourism Australia

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