With border restrictions easing, outstanding nature experiences and comparatively stable pandemic numbers, you could say that things are looking up for Australian tourism destinations. But will the lure of luxury closer to home be enough to tempt us to explore our own backyard?
If there’s a silver lining to this challenging time, it’s the boost that Australian domestic tourism is expected to gain from Australian travellers, who spend some $45 billion per year on outbound travel, holidaying at home.
For luxury operators, though, there’s the loss of international visitors to take into account, and the inevitable nervousness about whether there are enough affluent Australians to keep this sector vibrant. But the first signs are very optimistic.
A renewed love affair with staycations
Lodges closer to big population centres, such as Pretty Beach House near Sydney and Daylesford’s The Lake House, are taking off first, as travellers make baby steps. “The phones have definitely started ringing,” says Penny Rafferty, Executive Officer, Luxury Lodges of Australia. “Domestically, there is definitely a pent-up desire to travel. It’s very logical that this will happen in phases.”
In further good news, guests enquiring about more remote properties are showing interest in spending their leisure dollars on longer stays. For family groups, in particular, money once set aside for multiple business class airfares to global destinations is being redirected towards more immersive experiences locally and upgraded accommodation. “People want more time to hang out and enjoy the privilege of place,” Penny Rafferty says.
An Australian take on luxury
James Baillie, whose celebrated Southern Ocean Lodge was a victim of the 2019 bushfires, is busy with plans for the rebuild, and the reopening of his three other lodges, including a refurbishment of Silky Oaks Lodge, scheduled to reopen in April 2021. Baillie, who pioneered an Australian style of laid-back luxury that prizes sense of place, sustainability and genuine experience over ostentation, is brimming with optimism. “Oh yeah, we’ve got heaps of bookings,” he says. “That’s all looking good for the rest of the year.”
“I think having Australians staying home and enjoying Australia is an incredible positive for the industry. The world has become a more overpopulated place, the very nature of what we do and where those properties are located has become more and more attractive, especially to those traditional markets of the United States and Western Europe,” he says.
“The type of luxury that we have always sold in Australia is not about butlers and gold taps. It’s about that real purity of place and that connection to place,” says Philippa Harrison, Managing Director of Tourism Australia. A holiday in Australia isn’t just a beach holiday in Noosa, she says. “Although that’s a great thing to do, there’s so much more available. We’ve got incredible deserts, epic landscapes and great cultural stories to tell.”
A safer place to travel
High on the list of priorities for luxury travellers will be the health credentials of a destination and that puts Australia in a great spot, she says. “We’re seen as a very safe destination. In fact, if you look at what Australia is known for, our open spaces, our produce, our pure air, I think all of those things are going to be much more important to people.”
“One hesitates to use the phrase ‘good pandemic’,” says Carolyn Childs, CEO of MyTravelResearch.com. “But, being brutally honest about it, in comparison with the rest of the world, we’ve had a good pandemic.” Australia and New Zealand have been models of how it has been managed well. That’s certainly attractive to international travellers. But hiding in plain sight is a domestic market that’s bigger than China and which, in her estimation, could potentially be three times as big.
However, not all of our products can rival the ultimate luxury international brands, she says. “Some of that may not matter if it’s experiential. Certainly, our natural assets are world-class.”
The key is convincing Australians that their premium experiences are as exotic as, say, a safari in Botswana. It’s talking to wellness travellers about Gaia, not Chiva Som. As Carolyn Childs sees it, “It’s an opportunity for us as an industry to remake ourselves.”
Are you a luxury travel agent looking for new and exciting travel options for your clients, or do you offer premium travel experiences? Click here to discover the Luxperience Virtual event, taking place 13-16 October 2020.