VANCOUVER — Australia has been a runaway destination for North Americans as it heads into 2017, coming off unprecedented visitor stats in 2016. Now Tourism Australia is attempting to trigger new incentives for travel agents that will keep the numbers moving forward like bounding kangaroo.
“We had an extraordinary year. North America has seen unprecedented momentum,” said Tourism Australia’s Robert Keddy, Head of Commercial Partnerships for the Americas, who was in Vancouver to give an industry update to travel agents at the Blue Water Cafe.
Canadian travel figures climbed in 2016 to 152,000 for an 8% increase over 2015. U.S. figures also ramped up to 720,000, a 21% increase. Keddy said the North America market is now Australia’s third largest in terms of global arrival numbers. And in 2017 Australia is projecting that Canada and the U.S. will send 1,000,000+ visitors to its shores.
There is every indication that North American will reach that goal. Stats for the 12 months leading up to March 2017 have seen 158,000 Canadian visitors for an 11% increase over the same period a year earlier. For the month of March there was a 22% rise in Canadian visitors. Australia is seeing the same kind of increase in arrivals from the U.S.
Keddy said he is now trying to determine what factors influence Canadians and North Americas to pick Australia as a vacation spot. “It is important to determine what drives people,” he said.
Research collected so far indicates that Canadians are motivated by the perception that Australia is a safe and secure county, provides good value for money, has vibrant cities and friendly individuals and good food and is culturally rich with interesting history.
While U.S. travellers share the same concern for safety, their main drivers are the natural outdoors and wildlife as well as the cuisine. Value for the dollar was at the bottom of the main five motivators.
Keddy said Tourism Australia is currently looking at how to use what it calls ‘User Generated Content’, or UGC, made up of thousands of photos and video clips generated by travellers every day and posted on Tourism Australia’s social media channels. He showed the Vancouver agents gathered at the event a sampling of the brilliant photos and videos, all taken by visitors.
Keddy said he is hoping to develop a program that will allow travel partners and/or travel agents to access some of these photos and video clips through Tourism Australia’s website Australia.com, to encourage clients to travel to the country.
Tourism Australia revamped its Aussie Specialist Program a year ago with new training material and videos, with the goal of creating a more appealing learning experience. Some 11,117 Canadian travel agents have enrolled in the program and 655 have completed it. Those figures represent a 79% enrolment increase and a 54% completion increase versus a year ago. The program is also aimed at providing the information that travel agents need to sell.
“It is important that we are out there driving that demand,” Keddy said.
In the U.S. Tourism Australia has launched a trial program which has it working more closely with individual commercial partners. Keddy said he hopes the program will be replicated in Canada in the latter part of 2017 or early 2018.
Keddy supplied 2016 Canadian air carrier statistics as well. They showed Air Canada leading with 32% of travellers, Qantas at 13%, Air New Zealand at 11%, United Airlines at 7%, Cathay Pacific at 6%, Jetstar at 4%, Virgin Australia at 4%. Other airlines accounted for the remaining 23%.
Tourism Australia’s target market for travellers is the 45+ age group, said Keddy. “Our target group is the 45+ people who are adventurous. They have travelled outside North America at least once and they are experience driven,” he said.
This target market has chosen Australia become of its diversity of experiences, from the famous Sydney BridgeClimb to relaxing beach time.
Among the new experiences attracting Canadians in growing numbers are indigenous tours and excursions. “Australia has one of the oldest indigenous cultures in the world,” said Keddy, adding that the culture dates back 40,000 years. Unique tours include mud crabbing in northern Queensland with an indigenous family on the mud flats.
Equally interesting experiences can be found in urban areas where indigenous guides provide tours of botanical gardens, providing insight into how people used the plants in their daily lives. “They (travellers) want experiences that have brag-ability,” said Keddy.