Deep thirst from the trade for more of the United States

LATTE chats with Caroline Davidson, President, Visit USA Committee Australia

Australian travel agencies have a clear thirst for the United States as the destination regains its popularity despite a struggling Australian dollar and upcoming Presidential election, says Caroline Davidson, President of the Visit USA Australia organisation.

Davidson, 2.5 years in the role as the local head of Visit USA Committee Australia, said there’s an obvious interest in the USA from Australia, with nearly one million arrivals entering the country in 2023. That’s after a relatively slow rebound when borders reopened and Aussies made their way in droves to the UK and Europe to visit extended families after the pandemic.

For reference, Davidson has been with Visit USA for 10 years, including five as Vice President and three as Secretary.

Speaking exclusively with LATTE in Los Angeles on the sidelines of IPW 2024, Davidson said the recovery in visitor volume from Australia last year was followed up with solid interest in this year’s Visit USA Expos in February and a record ANZ participation at US Travel Association’s annual conference last week.

Caroline Davidson, President, Visit USA Australia, kicking off IPW 2024 for the Australian delegation at the Golden Hour rooftop bar in downtown Los Angeles.

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“We’ve been knocked out pre-IPW with our own expos and the delegation wanting to attend,” Davidson said of the enthusiasm for the destination.

“That’s an indication that it’s not just our reaction, it is suppliers wanting to come and access new products. America is coming back strongly,” she said.

“There’s an element for culture reference for Australians that grew up with their movies, with the music, but now we’ve come of age a little bit more. We still feel safe in America because of the language, because of the diverstiy, maybe not so much the politics.

“I think there are some concerns that the Australian market might be influenced by the politicial situation coming up. However, if they want to take their kids to Disneyland it’s not going to stop them.”

“Australians will still travel. They’ll still go skiing for a week. Politics won’t necessarily stop them travelling.

“And the same with the exchange rate. It’s a factor, however the things that impact travel are flight costs and the general economic sentiment at home. Interest rates, etc… it’s how people are feeling about spending, or if we’re not.

“For many people that travel long haul, the econmic factors are not really a factor because they are cashed up.”

Caroline Davidson, President, Visit USA Australia

“People are looking at doing things slightly differently and Americans are as keen as ever to have Australian visitors because of our characteristics. We’re a safe market. We’re big repeat audience. We stay longer and we spend more, we are flexible with our leave, and we get four weeks of it.”

At the Visit USA Australia IPW 2024 Welcome Party from left are Steve Cairns, Liberty Tours, with itravel's Emily Kadinski, Cola Maurirere and Steve Labroski.

She says the average length of stay for Australians is between 19-22 days. Favourite destinations include New York, Florida, Alaska, Hawaii and California as it’s the primary gateway for capacity into the country.
Around 74% of Australians travelling to the US are repeat visitors.

“Nearly a million Australians come to the US every year – they go to the key areas first. The destinations that are safe, before then exploring somewhere else.”

“There are a lot of areas that still have that nonhomogenous sense of place. Yellowstone National Park… there’s nothing else like it. There’s only one Yellowstone. And a lot of areas like that have managed to keep what is unique about the region, which is really important.

“While some visitors want to stay with one safe hotel brand as they move around, Australians want to taste of local flavour, somewhere authentic with a sense of place.”

Australians are also prolific skiers, and in many ski areas sit in the top three markets.

Davidson, who represents the Great American West in her day-to-day job, says her destinations — which include Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and until 1 July 2024, Montana — are popular for a second or a third time visiting Australian traveller.

“Australians go everywhere. We like the National Parks, we like the wide open spaces, we love a road trip, the culture and the history and music, plus there’s the shopping… but maybe not so much at the moment due to the dollar,” she said.

The team from Luxury Escapes at IPW 2024 in Los Angeles.

Quizzed if she felt the Australian market had fully recovered from COVID, Davidson said expert forecasts are tipping 1.09 million Australians will visit the US in 2024. That’s off the back of the fourth-largest international market increase in 2023, positioning the destination inside the top 10 source markets for the US again. Australia has been flagged to return to pre-pandemic levels next year.

The strength of the US dollar is having an obvious impact on demand for Australian travellers, Davidson noted, but added that the extra air capacity between Australia and the USA (such as new routes) will continue to put downward pressure on airfares, except at the pointy end, where travellers appear to have accepted those exponentially higher costs (compared to pre-COVID fares).

Davidson also revealed to LATTE that at the Visit USA mid-year update in early July, the organisation has invited David Huether, Deputy Director of Research from the US National Trade and Tourism Office (NTTO) to present to members.

The NTTO collects and analyses international travel and tourism statistics and has introduced a Country Profile Monitor (based on a sample size of 1,000 Australians) showcasing specific figures, such as travel volume and top points of entry, visitor spending and purpose of trip.

“David will show members first-hand how to delve down into the data with rich visual statistics,” she explained.

Based on the 2022 NTTO statistics, California was the most visited state in the USA by Australians (with 39.3% of the market), then Hawaii (29.1%), New York (19%), Florida (11.6%), Nevada (10.6%) and Texas (8.4%).

Shopping was the top ‘Leisure Activity’ (89.2%), then sightseeing (85.7%) and National Parks/Monuments (47.5%).

Visit USA’s mid-year update will be held in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, with Davidson saying that regional events will also be considered, based on member feedback.

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