This week saw the welcome return of Tourism Australia’s Marketplace event to North America for the first time in three years, with Australia’s industry leaders meeting face-to-face with US travel agents and tour operators at the Westdrift Manhattan Beach Hotel in Los Angeles.
From August 7 to 9, the high-energy three-day event was hosted by Tourism Australia and sponsored by Qantas, American Airlines, Destination New South Wales and Tourism Queensland.
The excitement was palpable among the 102 buyers and 107 seller delegations in attendance. The Marketplace event provided a chance for business partners from both sides of the Pacific to reconnect after being separated for so long due to the pandemic. After two years of strict border closures for Australia, there were many new developments to catch up on.
The affair kicked off on Sunday afternoon, with a presentation on the North American Market Update stage by some of the biggest names in the Aussie tourism industry. Speakers included Tourism Australia Managing Director Phillipa Harrison; Chief Executive Officer, Strategy and Research, Rob Dougan; Tourism Australia Vice President, Americas, Chris Allison; and Senator Don Farrell, Australia’s Minister for Trade and Tourism.
The opening presentation also included contributions from a panel of five key leaders: Matt Cameron-Smith, CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism; John O’Sullivan, CEO of Experience Co.; Paul McGrath, YHA CEO; Kate Shilling, CEO of Ultimate Winery Experiences CEO; Experience Co CEO John O’Sullivan; and Virtuoso Senior Vice President, Global Operations, Michael Londregan.
“We have begun the hard work of inviting Americans back to Australia,” Harrison said. “This is such an important market for us, this has always been an important market for us, and I can tell you that we will continue to invest heavily.”
“The US was Australia’s third largest market for international visitation and second most valuable for spending, with 818,000 Americans traveling to Australia in 2019 and spending $3.9 billion,” the Tourism Minister said. Referring to the newly installed Prime Minister’s administration, Farrell added, “The Albanian Government is committed to supporting Australia’s tourism industry to return to the economic powerhouse we know it to be and to ensure the world knows that Australia is open for business.”
It could easily be assumed that Australia’s tourism bodies and industry operators simply shut down during the pandemic, but that turns out to be far from the truth. Instead, state, territorial and regional destination marketing organizations, and various businesses involved in tourism, were making the most of their downtime, positioning themselves for the day those borders finally open.
Chris Allison, Tourism Australia’s vice president for the Americas, said the agency had continued its efforts over the past two years. “We didn’t want to pull back significantly, so we kept investment in the market to allow us to keep content in front of consumers, to keep them inspired and dreaming of future trips to Australia when we open,” he said. . . “And, on the advisor side, we stayed very active with our Aussie Specialist program to keep people updated, educated and engaged in our destination.”
Within the first four weeks of Australia’s reopening on February 21, the government deployed its $40 million marketing campaign, centered on the tagline “Don’t go small”. Go to Australia.” The catchphrase was strategically chosen to capitalize on current consumer appetites for large, once-in-a-lifetime trips, having been limited to relatively local destinations during the pandemic.
“Australia has always been a bucket list destination, so I think now we have this big trend of people really reassessing their destination priorities, looking at what they would have considered their bucket list destinations in the future and prioritizing them to do. now. So this is a huge opportunity for us,” Allison told TravelPulse.
He also teased: “Later this year, in October, we will launch a brand new campaign in all our key international markets. We’re inviting the world back to Australia now that we’re reopening, and we’re inviting everyone to ‘Come and Say G’day’.
On the second and third day of the event, attendees engaged in a series of one-on-one meetings organized into eight-minute meetings. Vendors stood still while buyers moved from table to table at their own times, in a sort of speed-dating style setup. A handy Tourism Australia app helped participants stay on top of their meeting schedules and also provided networking information for all participants, along with a chat function. But, as always, it was the personal element that proved invaluable.
“Australia Marketplace offers our tour operators the opportunity to establish business relationships with leading qualified travel agencies and tour operators from North America,” Harrison told Hotel Management. “These links are so vital to the Australian tourism industry as we look to rebuild as we are one of the sectors hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since borders reopened six months ago, Tourism Australia has made a major push to revive the sector’s recovery in key tourism markets and regain its pre-pandemic momentum. Among the many industry events the agency is hosting are upcoming Marketplace events for other regions.
Tourism Australia Marketplace Japan & Korea will run from 26-30 September, Tourism Australia Marketplace UK & Europe is scheduled for 14-15 November. Excitement is also building towards returning in person for the 43rd edition of the Australian Tourism Exchange, to be held on the Gold Coast from 30 April to 4 May 2023.