Australia: Fightback begins in domestic market(1)

9 May 2003

The impact
According to the Australian Tourist Commission, early indications suggest that visitor arrivals during April and May will be down by around 20 percent compared to last year, with SARS affected countries in Asia potentially falling by more than 30 per cent.

Arrivals declined by 10.5 per cent in March compared with the same month in 2002, a drop of 50,000 visitors.

In addition, operators in key markets are indicating that forward bookings are down by 30 per cent on previous years.

European markets, including Germany and France, are also impacted by SARS as travellers are reluctant to travel to Australia due to stopovers in Asia.

The fightback
As visitor numbers and hotel occupancy rates plummet, Australia's inbound tourism industry is anxiously looking for government support. But it may have to hold its breath a while longer as the government moves to support domestic tourism as a priority.

Minister for tourism, Joe Hockey was due to launch a nationwide domestic tourism marketing campaign as TravelWeekly went to press this week.

Industry leaders have criticised the federal government for failing to match authorities in Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand, which have all released major assistance packages for tourism operators.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chief executive Mike Hatton told a meeting of national tourism organisations in Sydney last week that hotel occupancies in capital cities had slumped to as little as 16 per cent, and cancellation rates had risen to up to 40 per cent.

The Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) said the latest market reaction survey of its major inbound tour operators has revealed that the June quarter is heading for a 25 percent decrease in international visitors compared to last year.

Better news in Victoria, where the next state budget will include a A$40.6 million (US$26 million) funding package to help tourism operators survive the SARS-related downturn.

The Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) is also set to launch new advertising campaigns in its two largest tourism markets, New Zealand and Japan, while Qantas this week launched a major international sale to several destinations. The 'Massive Global Sale' promotion will run until June 15, for travel to September 14.

The airline has also released a range of deeply discounted fares into the domestic market.

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