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What’s Up Down UnderFebruary 24, 2012 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent
|The Sydney Opera House is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.|
As jumbo jets make long-distance travel easier, Australia has increasingly become a reachable destination for Americans. Travel Agent talked with several tour operators to see how travel to the island continent is changing, and what clients expect in an Australian vacation.
What They Want
Jeff Adam, VP sales and marketing at AAT Kings, says that at the start of the season, travelers are mostly interested in deals and value-adds, and AAT Kings is offering several: “Clients can buy a tour and get a free pre- or post-trip night in Sydney or Melbourne, or a free day tour, or a $300 discount per couple,” he says. “If they book and deposit [an escorted tour] early, they can get 5 percent off, up to 10 percent off if they pay in full early.” They also offer what they call a “mate’s rate” on FITs, which gives a 30 percent discount on the second traveler. “People are seeking value. Markets have been flipping, so value is the new normal.”
No particular region of the country, he says, has pulled ahead in terms of numbers. “When U.S. clients go to Australia, they want to see everything,” he says. He acknowledges that many people think of Australia as a once-in-a-lifetime kind of trip. “But once they do it,” he says, “they come back.”
Ian Swain of Swain Tours says that U.S. visitors are exploring more of Australia now than they were just five years ago. “They’re going now because of the new luxury lodges and experiences that have developed,” he says. Swain Tours does a lot of business with Luxury Lodges of Australia, a collection of high-end properties throughout the country that launched in 2010. “Go back five years, there were only a few luxury [hotels]. There are 17 [in the Luxury Lodges portfolio] now.”
Where They’re Going
While hub cities will always be popular starting points for an Australian experience, increased domestic air transfers have made it easier to bypass Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne and begin a tour in a more remote area. “People are starting in Tasmania and then continuing from there,” Swain says, noting that Saffire resort is a popular place to stay. Honeymooners, he adds, might start in Sydney or Brisbane, but then go to the Whitsunday Islands.
|Lounge at Saffire in Tasmania boasts the ultimate “classic cool” look.|
“After the iconic cities, people might go to Tasmania, Adelaide or the Flinders Ranges,” Adam says. AAT has also seen interest in its “Barrier Reef Discovery” tour, which begins in Noosa, then heads to Rainbow Sands before taking a barge to Fraser Island and then heading up the Queensland coast. AAT is also developing a rail journey that will take passengers from Adelaide to Perth over four or five days, but this is still in the works.
Still, Swain acknowledges, many first-time travelers will do what he calls “Sydney, Rock and Reef”—that’s Sydney, then heading to Uluru (formerly known as Ayres Rock in the Northern Territory) and then visiting the Great Barrier Reef—“but people are more adventurous, and they will try Kangaroo Island or Melbourne and Brisbane. They come to agents more educated, and agents can contact us for advice.”
Marta Visu, vice president of marketing at Pacific Holidays, says that visitors to Australia mostly go for landscape and nature-based experiences, like Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef (Cairns), Blue Mountains (Sydney), penguins (Phillips Island outside of Melbourne), kangaroos and koalas.
An Agent’s Perspective
Kerrie Strumolo, a home-based Premier Aussie specialist at K.S. Travel & Tours, says that people are booking trips to Australia much closer in. “In the past, Australia was planned a year or even longer in advance,” she says. “So whilst it’s still a dream trip and, for the most part, a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ trip, the time between booking and traveling is much less. I personally have two enquiries for January 2013 that came to me in January 2012, but the majority of my calls that are coming in are for trips between four and six months from the time of initial contact with me until the time of departure.”
|Australia’s Great Barrier Reef provides excellent snorkeling opportunities.|
The biggest trend she’s noticed with her clients is that they want indigenous experiences: “Less touristy, more authentic,” Strumolo says. “People want a different experience—more unique than a mass-produced tour. They look for smaller tours, and they are willing to go without fancy accommodations and spend more money on the experience...Even people staying in Sydney don’t want a business-y hotel. They want to feel like they’re really experiencing Australia.”
She recommends different hotels to offer a more localized experience: In Sydney, the Grace Hotel has great location and old-world charm. “It’s an old building, a former department store,” she says. For something a bit more upscale, or for families, she recommends the Quay Grand Suites, which overlooks Sydney Harbour and is close to the Opera House. In Queensland’s Daintree Rainforest, the Silky Oaks Lodge is on the edge of Mossman river and just 17 minutes north of Cairns. “Each accommodation is an individual tree house,” she says. In the Outback, Wildman Wilderness Lodge is a new lodge that was literally recycled from an older property thousands of miles away. (Each piece was shipped across the country to be reassembled into something simultaneously new and classic.)