An Australian market was held in Los Angeles last month. His mission was simple; to promote U.S. trade and tourism coming out of two years of COVID-19.
Australia has a long way to go to return to its 2019 figures, when one million American and Canadian travelers visited, spending $3 billion. Currently, demand is estimated at around 65% of trips in 2019.
Travel from outside Australia has been halted for nearly two years, several planes from Qantas and other carriers are still parked and Australia is facing a labor shortage in the tourism.
However, Australia has a significant advantage in addition to the beauty of the country. Unlike some international and US destinations, Australia really, really wants tourists to come back and invests in its tourism industry.
We spoke with Donald Edward Farrell, Minister of Trade and Tourism. He was candid about the problems the country faces as a destination. “My job is to increase the number of flights. We have a shortage of planes. There are still three or four planes [Qantas] still sitting in the Mojave Desert.
“We want more Americans to come back. We have a very close relationship,” he added. “But during the time of COVID, people have stopped travelling. So now there are a lot of unmet demands; Traveling to Australia is something many Americans would love to do.
One of the most popular trips is what Australians call “Sydney-rock-reef”. Such journeys could begin in bustling Sydney. Uluru or Ayers Rock, the largest monolith in the world, is known for its fascinating paintings and sculptures. “Reef” of course refers to the exploration of the Great Barrier Reef.
To get an idea of the distances involved, Sydney to Uluru is a 5.5 hour flight or 30 hour drive of almost 1800 miles. Similarly, to get from Sydney to the land side of the Great Barrier Reef is 1250 miles.
We did a quick search for an economy class flight to Sydney from LAX. The lowest price we could find for a round trip economy ticket from October 31 to November 11, round trip was $1,969. As Farrell said, “We had a roundtable with the aviation industry – we want more seats!”
But the flights are coming. According to Chris Allison, vice president of tourism for the Americas, “the airlift is recovering strongly. Our data shows that US air capacity will be back to 79% of 2019 levels by the end of 2023. Airlines continue to expand into Australia. And as capacity continues to increase, airfares will continue to normalize.
On October 28, Allison said United would launch new services from San Francisco to Brisbane in addition to relaunching services from Houston to Sydney and Los Angeles to Melbourne. In December, Qantas will launch new services from Dallas to Melbourne. And for those who really enjoy seeing Oceania (or spending some quality time on a plane), Qantas will launch services from New York to Sydney via Auckland next June.
Qantas is also promising the arrival of Project Sunrise, non-stop flights from New York and London to Melbourne and Sydney, by 2025. A fleet of twelve Airbus A350-1000s will make the 7 p.m. jump, with just 238 seats offering plenty space to stretch out. (Also, plenty of room for extra jet fuel.)
Australian tourism faces other challenges in reaching Americans. Several years ago, Qantas ran a promotion where the airline paid for a US passport for passengers who bought plane tickets. The long-standing agreement highlighted one reality; in 2021, only 37% of US adults report having a valid, unexpired US passport. But as Farrell said, “Even at 40%, that’s a lot of Americans with passports.”
Even better news for Australia is that two-thirds of Americans (64%) with household incomes over $100,000 have valid US passports. For many, Australia is a must-see destination. And GenZ backpackers with more money than time are also good candidates for trips to Australia, as 58% of university graduates have passports.
Farrell was more focused on hospitality staff, a familiar issue around the world. “We hope to address the labor shortage; we have staff shortage issues. Farrell, who started working in the hospitality industry in Australia’s Northern Territories in the 1970s, added: “In the long term, we want to train young Australians to work in the tourism industry.
Australia has been closed to Americans during the pandemic. Another large group, Chinese travellers, has yet to return. But the hospitality industry has focused on internal travel, much like the United States. Although there remains a labor shortage, many new hotels and restaurants have been launched across Australia.
But after the layoffs and furloughs that have plagued the global hospitality industry during COVID, “We have to get people to come back,” Farrell said. “We need to train more Australians; we thought backpackers and foreign students would help.
We asked about the travel industry’s reputation for hard work and relatively low pay. Farrell said that in Australia the salary is higher than in the United States. Rather, the problem was “unreliability of work, furloughs and layoffs. Every time there was a lockdown, you lost your job. People wanted to do something more reliable.
But Australia sees tourism as part of the solution, with significant career opportunities. To achieve this, the emphasis is on investing in vocational training and welcoming more immigrants with the necessary skills.
“We believe our hospitality workers will be back by October,” Farrell said. “We encourage Americans to come. For young Americans, you can get a work visa – my daughter has a New York work visa.
In Australia, at least, he says, “travel and tourism is an ambitious industry”.
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