‘Ask the Expert’ public online Q&A with the Daily Telegraph

  • Transcript, Q&A
02 June 2020

Q: How much has the covid pandemic cost the Australian tourism industry? How does the government plan to encourage international tourists back to Australia when the international borders reopen?

A: One in thirteen Australian jobs are dependent on our tourism industry, as are many thousands of Australian businesses. We attract close to 9 million international arrivals annually and the absence of them is a huge blow to many parts of Australia. Without support like JobKeeper and small business payments many of our tourism businesses would probably have gone under by now.

In the short term the best thing we can do is to get Australians to "Holiday Here this Year!" ... check out https://www.australia.com/en! But we will also seek to rebuild international visitors as fast as we can, when we can. Tourism Australia continues to use social media channels to remind international markets of the incredible experiences Australia has to offer, trying to increase the intention of people to book when they can. We will step up more aggressive promotion of Australia when conditions allow.

Australia is also a standout country from our successful management to date of COVID, which can only enhance our reputation for safety and quality, as well as our exceptional experiences.

Q: How does the government plan to manage the arrivals and departures of cruise ships going forward, and will the government have the power to make them improve their hygiene standards? I have been cruising regularly for the past 20 years but after what happened on the Ruby Princess I am nervous.

A: The cruise ship industry has plenty of work to do to reassure health officials and the travelling public of their safety. Restrictions on cruise ships won't be lifted until health officials are satisfied that they are safe.

Q: We planned (and paid) for a trip to WA in early July. SA have no cases (or 1 imported one) and WA pretty much have none (apart from the Ship and 1 imported one) do you think it's crazy that at this stage it's highly unlikely we will be able to go?

A: I hope that the states can agree to safely open their borders, after they've safely and successfully opened up activities within their own states. Across Australia there has been remarkable success in suppressing the spread of COVID and, while we shouldn't risk that success, we also need to make sure that restrictions don't stay in place any longer than necessary.

Q: Is NZ likely to be open to travel for Australian tourists by end of June?

A: New Zealand is obviously the first, and right now only, international market that we could safely and easily agree to open up to. If New Zealand and some Australian states are ready and willing to progress then I hope it can happen soon, but realistically it may not be quite that soon. I hope that the reluctance of some states to open up their domestic borders doesn't become an obstacle to progress as the recovery of jobs and small businesses in willing states shouldn’t be held back by the decisions of other state governments.

Q: Where do you plan to go on your next holiday?

A: I've made two bookings for a quick family getaway during the course of this year. The first is to Kangaroo Island for a few days during the July school holidays, honouring a promise I made when visiting fire affected communities there in January. There are still amazing wildlife experiences to see like Seal Bay, as well as observing the breathtaking recovery of our bush from fire, while indulging in some great local produce. The second is to the Eyre Peninsula on SA's west coast, for the October long weekend, where we will step out into the waters of Coffin Bay to enjoy the freshest oysters imaginable! When interstate restrictions ease & time allows I hope to take the family north at some stage too.

Q: I want to take my family on a holiday when we are able. Are there areas of Australia in more need than others and if so, where?

A: All parts of our tourism industry are doing it tough at present, so any bookings to anywhere are welcome right now. However, there are two groups that I would single out for special support. Firstly, let's not forget the fire affected communities. They've been suffering from cancellations and losses for even longer, so please get out to support them. Secondly, those parts of our tourism industry who rely more heavily on international visitors are going to be feeling the pain even longer, given the ongoing restrictions on international travel. So Australians able to take a break shouldn't just think about their usual or favourite local destination, but should also explore somewhere different, tick something else off of your bucket list and see why millions of international guests leave raving about our wonderful country each year too!

Q: My email inbox has been inundated with emails from cruise companies trying to sell me a cruise? Have cruise companies been given the green light to start cruising again? Will there be new guidelines for them to manage hygiene standards and do you think it would be risky to book a cruise?

A: No, cruise ships have not been given the green light yet and I would assume that cruise shipping will be one of the last activities to come back online. There were quite clearly failures in terms of public health management that contributed to the spread of COVID-19 on a number of cruise ships around the world. I believe health officials will be very cautious about giving a green light to cruise shipping anytime soon. The cruise industry not only has work to do to convince the health officials, but also to convince the public of their safety.

Our tourism industry and our accommodation providers right across Australia are doing it so tough at present. Rather than booking a cruise I encourage all Australians to get in their cars and, when we can, on planes, trains and busses across Australia, to stay in local accommodation places, spend money in our towns, regions and cities to really help our many other tourism businesses.

Q: In keeping with the Buy Australia campaign roll out don’t you think it’s time to educate Australian travellers that properties will match the rates of third parties like booking.com? If you book direct you save the 12% commission being sent overseas and keep that money in Australia.

It is the single biggest thing tourism bodies can do to support an industry on its knees. Educate the consumers to pick up the phone. It’s pure profit to us and we need that money.

A: Thanks Marty. The number one priority is to drive bookings. Our tourism industry is on its knees as a result of COVID and those who are able to travel can help by getting out there and supporting Australian jobs and businesses. But I agree that where possible it's best for people to book direct. Our promotional websites encourage that and we can all help to spread the word, so as to maximise the benefits that flow back to these Aussie businesses.

Q: Dear Minister, why the lack of Australian Govt support for Regional Sth Aust?

Coming out the other side of the dreadful COVID-19 crisis, Australia is going need a whole new approach to attract and present the magical land of Australia especially it's potential for an “Outback Experience” and “Wild Oceans Experience ” South Australia is well placed here.

National/International guests once borders open up between nearby Countries and growth markets -and to make Australia a competitive tourism affordable luxury destination, we are not going back to business as usual.

The growth about our next wave of tourism will be about the new nature experience, with the wonderful fresh food/wine as part of the offer, it will be about experiencing nature in all it's beauty.

A: Thanks Harrop. As a passionate South Australian I agree that SA has a huge amount to offer visitors, be they locals travelling across our state, those from interstate or internationals (once restrictions are eased). The experiences of outback, oceans, food, wine, indigenous culture and nature are all incredible parts of the SA offering. We are eager to promote travel right across Australia and highlight some of those SA experiences at https://www.australia.com/en/places/south-australia.html. I'm also thrilled to see the new SA state government campaign, 'Welcome Back'. There are so many amazing places to visit that are promoted at https://southaustralia.com/. Keep on helping to spread the SA word!

Q: A number of South East Asian countries have very low Covid 19 numbers and have been that way for a few weeks similar to Australia.

Is it possible that a travel hub to these countries could be arranged within the next few months given that it will be a long time before we can travel to the USA and most of Europe?

Also do you expect that we would have to go into a 14 day isolation on return to Australia and would that be in a hotel or your own home? Personally I would be willing to travel if I could isolate at home.

A: It's a bit early to countenance those options yet. We need to work through this in logical steps - open up local economies properly (restaurants, pubs, attractions, etc), then open up interstate travel, hopefully secure travel links with NZ and then, if all of that has been safely accomplished, we can consider other options. Everyone needs to remember that Australia's border restrictions have played a huge role in keeping us safe and continue to do so. Please think about holidaying here in Australia first. Check out https://www.australia.com/en for inspiration!

Q: Do you you think the Queensland borders will be open for interstate travel by August?

A: I hope so. Understandably, the priority right now is continuing with the process, in every single state, of gradually easing internal restrictions and getting people back into restaurants, pubs and other activities. If states successfully ease internal restrictions while still suppressing COVID-19, then all states should progress to open up their borders.

Q: With European Countries starting to accept international travel and Greece saying they would accept Australians when are we able to leave Australia to go to another country ?

A: Unlike many other nations, Australia has successfully limited the spread of COVID-19. Restrictions on international arrivals into Australia have been a key part of our success and remain a key part of our ongoing strategy to keep Australians safe. That means that Australians will need to keep overseas holiday plans on ice for a while but I encourage everyone to start planning what parts of Australia they want explore instead. We have plenty of amazing experiences, check some of them out at https://www.australia.com/en

Q: With airlines and holiday providers struggling financially and in desperate need of income, do you think this will drive prices up or down in Australia?

A: While there are many financial pressures on airlines and travel operators to date there will also be, once restrictions ease, intense competition to get tourists back. Consumers will no doubt benefit from that competition and our focus has to be on ensuring that Australian travel experiences are as attractive and affordable as possible.

Thanks everyone for your questions, comments and feedback. It's been a fun hour engaging with you! Please support our tourism industry by making a booking or two if you can. As I've said in a few posts, check out https://www.australia.com/en for some inspiration.

Happy travels! Cheers, Birmo.

Read the full article at: Federal Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham answers your questions.

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