Webinar Recap – Roadtrip revival: can domestic tourism fill the gap?
On 23 September, RAI hosted its fourth event in our Regions Rising Webinar Series in partnership with Bendigo and Adelaide Bank and its charitable arm, the Community Enterprise Foundation. The discussion on “Road Trip Revival: Can domestic tourism fill the gap?” was led by RAI’s Chief Economist, Dr Kim Houghton, who was joined by our invited panellists: Coralie Bell, the Chair of Australian Regional Tourism, Lisa Whitelaw the Senior Regional Manager for Business Development at Expedia Group and Catrin Allsop, the CEO of Australia’s South West Regional Tourism Organisation.
The tourism industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 restrictions, particularly with the closures of international and state borders. The discussion focused on how domestic tourism has changed since the pandemic and how it can be supported to grow and potentially fill the void left by international visitors.
Australia’s domestic tourism sector is traditionally quite strong and there is a hope that it will only get stronger now that Australians are no longer travelling overseas.
Coralie noted that regional Australia has been faced with drought, fire, floods and now COVID and that there is a real difference between places 3-4 hours’ drive from cities which are packed with visitors, and those further away which are struggling to survive. There is concern that the mental health services available in regional Australia aren’t adequate to meet the current and forecast demand as more small businesses go under. She called for more regional data which is needed for comprehensive planning and strategy development and for the design of measurable KPIs. She praised the impact of federal funding supports but noted that there were many important tourist spots which missed out and that, if they failed, there would be significant flow-on effects for the local community. Coralie also mentioned that the tourist industry’s ongoing challenges sourcing workforce and its reliance on international workers means that there are many places now that cannot fully operate as they are unable to source enough staff.
Lisa presented some fascinating data drawn from online searches over the Expedia Group sites. It showed that many Australians are considering travel before the end of the year, mostly by car and often to see friends and family. The most frequent keywords on Instagram associated with travel and Australia were “nature”, “adventure” and “roadtrip”. For Australians, separate research showed that about half of us are motivated to stay away from crowds and that a significant majority want to get more information on what health and hygiene measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID. Lisa outlined a number of funding initiatives and campaigns being supported by Expedia Group to help revive the tourism industry.
Catrin painted a positive picture of the situation for tourism in South Western Australia, perhaps indicative of what other states can hope to achieve when they reach zero community transmission. She described pent-up demand for travel translating into higher than normal demand in regional destinations. City-dwellers are venturing out to new destinations and are staying longer, helping to fill the void of international travellers. Still, COVID restrictions and the cancellation of many tourist events has meant that businesses have needed to be agile and to pivot their product. Wineries, for example, are now branching into serving meals to seated patrons. She provided the case study of the South West Edge road trip, a collaboration among neighbouring regions to develop and market an iconic 12-day itinerary, taking visitors along some of Western Australia’s breathtaking natural attractions.
The panel agreed that this sort of collaboration among neighbouring regions may help to increase the number of activities on offer to tourists, drawing in new markets including younger Australians and those who have not holidayed in regional Australia before.
It is an uncertain time for regional Australia and the tourism industry. We don’t know if Australians will rush overseas or to different parts of the country as soon as borders open up, or if visitors will return to places they are now discovering. It is also an anxious time, with many businesses needed to adapt and change and to re-think their product. But our panel thinks that it can be an exciting time, for the industry and for Australians, discovering the beauty in their own backyard.
At RAI, we are going to be keeping an eye on this important area and we’d love to hear your experiences of domestic travel or of pivoting your regional business to new markets.
You can watch a recording of the full webinar via the Regions Rising website.