After Sydney’s successful Adventure and Backpacker Industry Conference drew to a close last Thursday, operators took the rare chance of all being in town together to arrange an extra informal meeting to further discuss some of the burning issues to have arisen from the conference.
Arranged by Mission Beach hostel owner Boyd Scott, and hosted by Side Bar, Friday’s session saw up to 30 operators, mainly accommodation providers, turn up to discuss a range of issues, which included commissions, getting more Aussies working in tourism, the threat of mining, capitalising on Asian markets and the potential for joint marketing with New Zealand.
The elephant in the room was undoubtedly the divisive issue of the high commissions charged by some agents. Several operators made the point that the reality of having to pay, in some cases, commissions of up to 40% left them unable to spend money on marketing or product investment, which in turn forces them to charge more in order to make a profit, further alienating travellers looking for a cost-effective trip.
A big trend in the discussion, following a theme from ABiC the previous day, was how well New Zealand markets its product, even while battling natural disasters. The room was near unanimous in wanting Australia and New Zealand to work more closely in marketing themselves to the world, although few could see the relevant tourism bodies agreeing.
One potential solution presented was to encourage the 10 largest tourism brands in each country to join forces, and their considerable marketing budgets, to launch a new Australasian campaign and get the ball rolling, hopefully encouraging the tourism bodies to follow suit. Top Deck, Raging Thunder and Oz Experience were some of the companies mentioned which attendees hoped might take up the idea.
Linked to this discussion was the idea of introducing a New Zealand-style Qual Mark accreditation. However, following negative comments from the Kiwis in attendance, much of the group felt this move would become expensive and that, ultimately, it would simply lead to more bureaucratic involvement.
Also debated was the issue of the lack of Australians being involved in the industry, leading to many backpackers lamenting how few real Aussies they meet while travelling around. Likewise, the lack of Aboriginal faces was also considered an issue, with New Zealand’s success, in regards to Maori culture, again being seen as a shining light. Suggested solutions included trying to encourage more Australian students and indigenous Australians to take work in hostels, as well as encouraging more tour desks to place a greater emphasis on selling Aboriginal tourism.
There was also a large debate over how Australia as a product should be marketed towards Asia and how hostels and tours can accustom themselves to make Asian visitors more welcome.
The more controversial subject of Korean workers doing seasonal work in regional areas was also discussed, with some voicing concern that many Korean backpackers pay little money back into the industry, other than accommodation, due to sending the majority of their earnings home.
Regarding the threat from the mining industry, questions were asked as to how hostels can better target miners and their huge incomes, to combat the current practices of mining companies currently filling up caravan parks, rather than hostels, and the miners themselves going on holiday abroad, rather than in Australia.
The informal brainstorming session is likely to get a second instalment before the expo in Melbourne next February.