International travelers to breathe life into Australian tourism

For the first time in nearly two years, international flights carrying overseas travelers can land in Australia on Monday, bringing new hope for the nation's tourism sector.

For the first time in nearly two years, international flights carrying overseas travelers can land in Australia on Monday, bringing new hope for the nation's COVID-ravaged tourism sector.

Damian McClellan, who runs an ecotourism business in Sydney called "Ecotreasures," is one of the Australians welcoming the revival of international tourism.

He told Xinhua that the past two years had been "catastrophic" for his business.

"We've had lock-down periods where we couldn't operate for massive periods of time, and then having no movement of travelers or customers ... (It's been) very, very, very challenging," he said.

Before the pandemic, Australia's tourism sector was a key driver of economic growth. In the financial year 2018-19, it generated 60.8 billion Australian dollars (US$44 billion), or 3.1 percent of the country's gross domestic product, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The tap of the international tourism abruptly went dry as Australia closed its borders in March 2020. In the financial year 2020-21, tourism was nearly cut in half, generating just 32.4 billion Australian dollars, the lowest level since the financial year 2005-06.

While operators have made every effort to adapt their business models to rely on the domestic market, nothing could replace the international market.

"Basically, tourism is a seasonal business. And so, you're always going to have high demand when there's high demand: Christmas, New Year's, school holidays. That's not going to be sustainable through a whole financial year," said McClellan. "So, internationals are so important, because they fill up the low times."

A major consequence of peaks and troughs in the industry has been the shift in Australia's labor force.

Associate professor at the University of Queensland Gabby Walters told Xinhua that there was no quick fix for the impending labor shortage.

"I think the best thing that could happen for the industry is a slow drip approach as opposed to a massive flux (as the borders open), because I just don't think that we're quite ready for that," said the expert in tourism.

Eric Yu, who runs a travel agency in Queensland, told Xinhua that he expects Australia's tourism industry is unlikely to return to its pre-pandemic state in two to three years.

"Some tourism practitioners have been unable to stay afloat until the reopening of international borders. I know quite a few friends who already switched to other industries," he said. "There will be newcomers, but, as things are, I think most will be hesitant."

Besides supporting tourism at home, the government would need to work to build up Australia's image as a safe destination, given the risk of infection still haunts many international travelers, Walters said.

To attract more foreigners, Tourism Australia, a government agency, has launched an advertising campaign worth 40 million Australian dollars. The images of a kangaroo standing on a golden-sand beach next to the words of "Come and say G'day" can be seen on billboards from London to New York.

"The ad positioned the country, as a whole, as a place that has wide open spaces, lots of fresh air, outdoor and cultural attractions ... people are seeking experiences that avoid crowds," Walters said.

Mentioning that the campaign may attract some brave globetrotters, Val Anthony, a senior research analyst at Tripadviser, a leading travel platform, told Xinhua that searches for Australian hotels had seen a 10 percent increase in the last month.

"We see the pandemic tourism recovery gap starting to close in Australia with the recent announcement," Anthony said.

Jie Wang, a senior lecturer at the school of business of the University of Queensland, said the long-term nature of the pandemic, unlike other disasters, would change the landscape of tourism for years to come.

"Travelers know we need to pay more attention to hygiene, or be more selective in terms of hotel or destination choice ... Consumers have changed a lot in their behavior," said Wang.

The expert in disaster management in tourism said that Australia needs to consider how global perceptions have changed during the pandemic, and target its marketing to different countries accordingly.

"Tourism businesses need to consider a lot of things, not only the destination, but also the home country's policies and their quarantine policies," said Wang.

Ready to welcome guests from the world, McClellan said visitors can "explore some beautiful spots and come for all the reasons they came before the crisis, which are beautiful nature, wildlife, beaches, and the relaxed atmosphere."

Special Reports