What’s Up Down Under?



Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge at sunset


We’re back from the Australian Tourism Exchange with the latest news.

The centerpiece of this year's Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) in Sydney was Tourism Australia’s Managing Director Andrew McEvoy’s announcement of a plan to double tourism expenditure to $140 billion by 2020. Labeled the 2020 Tourism Industry Potential, it involves working with airlines, hotels and other industry businesses to drive the numbers up in nine short years. “2020 sounds good,” McEvoy said at the exchange, noting that it is also the sign of perfect vision.

For a marketing message to resonate with both the travel industry and travelers themselves, it has to be simple, McEvoy says. “And the strong, simple message is that we have ambition through the year 2020. It’s a decade in which we can get it right.”

The challenge, he adds, comes with a simple question: How do they do it? “We can’t just galvanize people behind an ad campaign alone. We need to galvanize them behind ambition.” Tourism Australia needs to ask the right questions, he says, along the lines of: “Are we building enough rooms? Are they the right quality? Are we appealing enough to the right consumer? Do we have the right air capacity? How are we increasing in labor and skills in Australia? And are we marketing appropriately? What form of distribution is selling it?”

A key part of that development is Tourism Australia’s relationship with the country’s flag carrier, Qantas, which announced in January that, starting this month, it will operate direct flights between Dallas and Sydney, bringing the East Coast that much closer to Australia. As Dallas is also a major hub for American Airlines, Qantas’ partner in the Oneworld Alliance, the new flights will also connect Qantas to more cities throughout North America. For example, Toronto only has one Qantas flight to Los Angeles every day, but three to Dallas.



Jena Tesse Fox
Author Jena Tesse Fox on top of Sydney Harbour Bridge with Bridge Climb

United has also become a player in travel to Australia, and  McEvoy says that Delta sees opportunities in expanding service there.

McEvoy is looking to add 40,000 to 50,000 new hotel rooms throughout the country by 2020. “Occupancy and yield have improved over the last two years,” he says, noting that revenue in Sydney and Melbourne alone is up 18 percent over the last year. “They’re making money, and we’re approaching capacity in capital cities.” Several new hotels are in the works throughout the states and territories, and Tourism Australia will be working with developers to promote new properties.

The States and Territories

Queensland: This destination, obviously, has had a rough time in recent months between floods and cyclones, but the state is now focusing on recovery and reminding the world that it is open for business. “The hotels are fine, the reef is spectacular, and the rainforest is lush and green,” says Linda Zaklikowski of the state’s tourism board. “We want to make sure that people don’t generalize. We’re putting things in perspective.”

From anecdotal evidence, Zaklikowski says that many bookings for visits to Queensland were not canceled, but redirected. In fact, she notes, the global financial crisis had more of an impact on the state’s numbers than the recent natural disasters did.

Following the success of the company’s Best Job in the World promotion, Tourism Queensland has been developing a corporate getaway gift, Million Dollar Memo, which will involve giving away a million Australian dollars for a business Queensland vacation. The focus on incentive travel could prove lucrative for the state: Last year, the incentive market generated $1 billion nationwide.

Northern Territory: A major new resort, Wildman Wilderness Lodge, opened just as ATE was kicking off. Focusing on eco-friendly luxury, the lodge, with 10 cabins and 15 safari tents, has already generated buzz because much of its material was repurposed from another resort in Queensland. In Darwin, Sky City is expanding, and renovations should be complete later this year. (See the April 4 issue for more information about both, and the Northern Territory in general.)

Several safari companies are offering unique tours of the outback and other natural attractions in the territory. Davidson’s Safaris, for example, goes into lands owned by indigenous peoples that self-driving visitors can’t access. Lord Safaris provides nature tours of Kakadu Natural Park, and Venture North has put together exclusive tours of the Cobourg Peninsula. Alice Springs Holidays operates multiday trips via Uluru (formerly known as Ayres Rock) through to King’s Canyon that run three or four days.

Great Barrier Reef
Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef was unaffected by natural disasters earlier this year and is open to tourists.

South Australia: Adelaide and its suburbs have several new establishments that have started some buzz. The Stirling Hotel, renovated from a former pub, opened recently, as did The Manna of Hahndorf. (Hahndorf is a town 45 minutes from Adelaide.) Foodies will want to check out the White House, a new restaurant in Hahndorf, from the owners of the popular Chocolate 5, and Grace, The Establishment, which opened in Adelaide.

Kangaroo Island is one of South Australia’s most popular vacation destinations, and development on the island has picked up steam recently. Kangaroo Beach Lodges are new luxury accommodations, and new helicopter flights are being offered to and around the island.

Victoria: The third Art Hotel, The Blackman, has opened in Melbourne, as has the Crown Metropol, a new luxury property with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. Several properties (the Langham, the Windsor and the Marriott)  are in various stages of renovation, from planning to just completed.

Many new tours have also debuted in the state, catering to very distinct markets. Notable on the list is the Hidden Secrets Tours, which takes clients to the city’s best (and, frequently, off-the-beaten-track) cafés and restaurants. Other tours geared for shoppers focus on the brand outlets in and around the city, and others still, on sports venues.

Tasmania: Arts and culture are the buzzwords for development in Tasmania, with the January opening of MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) in Hobart, which saw more than 100,000 visitors in its first 60 days. 

Kangaroo Island
In South Australia, visitors can get plenty of quality marsupial time at Kangaroo Island.

“Everything an art gallery is, this place isn’t,” says Nadine Ghanem of the state’s tourism board. Rooms have been specifically created to fit certain exhibits or pieces, guaranteeing that each installation will be seen in the best possible light.

The city has also launched ArtBikes, free bikes that can be picked up and dropped off at outdoor art installations, and smArt maps for finding the best museums and galleries.

A new public golf course, Lost Farm, has opened to complement the popular Barnbougle Dunes, and a new hotel (Lost Farm Lodge) is opening with it. And by next year, a new package will highlight Australia’s convict heritage, with tours of notable prisons in Sydney and Tasmania. 

New South Wales: A new tourism task force and tourism body, Destination New South Wales, is in the works, according to Barry O’Farrell, the premier of New South Wales. The plan, he says, is to “bring together the expertise of Tourism NSW and Events NSW so that we have one body charged with marketing this state to interstate and international visitors.”

Sydney is growing and developing: Barangaroo, for example, will be a major new commercial and retail hub right on the Harbour, with a luxury hotel and a boardwalk. A new Frank Gehry building is in the works, and will be the first in the Southern Hemisphere from the legendary designer.

Several new tours are in the works for New South Wales, including snorkel safaris, a Grand Pacific Drive using Ferraris (great for the luxury market), Royal Coast walks (great for the adventure market) and tours of the Blue Mountains.

Eureka Skydeck
In Melbourne, the Eureka Skydeck offers unbeatable views of the city—even straight down.


Qantas’ soon-to-be-launched nonstop flights between Dallas and Sydney will link the airline to 54 more codeshare cities through American Airlines. The flights are currently slated to operate four times per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), and the success of the flights will determine what other hub cities will follow.

Qantas will also replace first-class seating in the airline’s 747 planes with the current business-class seats from the new A380 planes. The 747s will have three classes: Business, Premium Economy, and Economy. The changes should begin in September, and will happen plane by plane rather than all at once. By the end of the year, Qantas expects to have 11 new A380 planes, which will continue to have four classes.

Air New Zealand is getting three new 777 planes, and is undergoing what hotels call a “soft refurbishment”: a new color scheme for some seats and new uniforms for the staff. Good news for flying foodies: Certain planes will now have ovens to custom-cook food from scratch, so that meals can be ordered at any time.

The Premium Economy cabin has been rearranged with angled seats—the two inner seats face each other and can serve as opposite sides of a table (good for couples or friends), while the outer seats are angled for privacy. And there has already been a good deal of buzz about the Economy Skycouch, which turns three economy seats into a sofa-sized bed—again, good for couples or parents with little kids. The planes will have small lounges for gatherings and events (story-time for kids, wine tastings, etc.), and the individual entertainment screens will offer from-seat menu ordering and live news.

V Australia will be rolling out new business-class seats on domestic flights next month on the A330 planes, and is offering some very nice perks to go with them. (They not only fold out to flat beds, but are then padded with real mattresses. Also, Bulgari amenities. Nice.)

And for those wanting a VIP experience, the new Row #5 in each 777 plane can be closed off with velvet curtains for maximum privacy. Groups of two to seven can block themselves off from the rest of the plane, or go to the sit-down bar for drinks and a snack. Better yet, Row #5 guests can get complimentary limo pickup and drop-off.

Tours and Activities

Taste of South Australia, based in Adelaide, focuses on the cuisine and wineries of the state, giving visitors an insider’s view of two industries that are invariably linked. New this year is the Taste of Adelaide Hills, which visits smaller towns in the suburbs of the city, including Hahndorf. In Adelaide, owner Mary Anne Kennedy organizes walking tours of the city that revolve around the popular Farmer’s Market.

Melbourne Private Tours is just what it sounds like: a private tour company geared toward the high-end market and with a focus on immersion rather than sightseeing. One of the company’s more popular options is the four-hour Melbourne After Dark tour, which focuses on the city’s nightlife, including views of the skyline as it lights up for the evening. A popular addition to the catalogue is the chef-led excursion to the Mornington Peninsula, a popular wine-producing region.

Outlet Shopping Tours may be changing its name for the American market, which associates “outlets” with strip malls. The Melbourne-based company focuses on wholesale shopping experiences, driving visitors from store to store (averaging 12 stops per day, not including lunch at a local café). The excursions avoid major brands in favor of unique Melbourne properties, making sure each guest gets items that can’t be purchased anywhere else in the world. Private tours are available, and owner Kirsty Grace says that she is working to bring stylists along to offer advice on the tours. (And for those who aren’t very interested in shopping, Grace also puts together sports tours of the city, focusing on Australia’s unique version of soccer.)

Just an hour from Sydney, Tobruk Sheep Station is a popular day trip for families or groups, letting them experience an authentic Australian lifestyle without getting too far from the city. The station is a real working farm, and visitors can try their hand at “mustering” (rounding up the sheep), shearing, whip-cracking and boomerang-throwing. Tea and lunch are included, and AAT Kings runs tours (about four hours) from the city to the station.

In Sydney, an almost obligatory experience is the Sydney Bridge Climb, which takes visitors up to the top of one of the city’s iconic structures on tours that can run from 90 minutes (not including prep time) to several hours. The company works with inbound tour operators like Goway and Swain for bookings, and agents can inquire about “family climbs” to help them sell the experience. Private climbs can also be booked for families or couples—imagine a wedding proposal at the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge!

Last year’s ATE marked the announcement of Luxury Lodges of Australia (LLA), and since the association’s debut, two new resorts have joined the fold. With an eye on exclusivity, however, Executive Officer Penny Rafferty says that the number of members may hold steady at 17 for a while.

Online, www.luxurylodgesofaustralia.com.au has numerous tools for planning visits to the country, including brochures in seven languages and downloadable high-resolution images that can be used to help clients get a better sense of the properties. Perhaps best of all, the site has a tool that measures the distance between lodges for clients traveling around the country, taking into account flight frequencies and direct vs. layover flights.

One member of Luxury Lodges is the Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, a boutique property developed and owned by James Baillie, who says that LLA is incredibly useful as a research tool for agents and visitors alike. Given that most of the hotels affiliated with LLA are fairly new, Baillie considers the association a positive sign for Australia’s hotel development. For his part, while Baillie does not expect to expand his two existing properties (Southern Ocean Lodge or Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island), he will be opening Remarkable Lodge in Tasmania soon, and is looking at other sites in Victoria and New South Wales for future development.

Another member, Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, is owned by Emirates, and is the airline company’s first resort outside of Dubai. Part of a six-mile wildlife conservation reserve, the property is carbon-neutral and comes with lots of outdoor and nature-based activities. The 40-room resort has cabins with pools that can be enclosed in winter for year-round use, and families can use the three two-bedroom Wollemi Suites or the one three-bedroom Wolgan Suite (which even has separate quarters for nannies or staff).

In Melbourne, the Langham recently renovated a number of suites, adding terraces that are currently the largest of any hotel in the city. The brand is also reportedly looking to expand into Sydney.

In Hahndorf, the four-star boutique Manna has been open for just under a year. With 51 rooms (including five Indulgence Spa Suites) and indoor/outdoor dining options, the hotel is a great pick for an overnight excursion through South Australia’s wine region.

Only time will tell if the country’s tourism expenditure will indeed reach the magical $140 billion mark by the target date of 2020. But if the current rate of hotel openings, airline expansions and statewide promotions continues, Australia may very well reach its goal.

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