Scotty’s Beach House owner Boyd Scott reminds us that you can’t blame high commissions for everything, after all, they’ve been around for years…
A mate of mine who operates a sea kayaking business out of Mission Beach which tours Hinchinbrook and Dunk Island made a remarkable observation to me on an Easter Monday reef trip:
“Backpackers arriving into Mission Beach nowadays are all tied into pre-booked travel itineraries and couldn’t go on a kayaking tour if they wanted to because they can`t break their onward bookings!”
I say this statement of the obvious was remarkable only because this fact has only just become apparent to him: he has not relied on passing tourism for over five years, choosing to target dedicated group bookings of kayakers instead, but heard all about this from another Mission Beach hostel operator recently (we don`t talk shop when fishing much, you see…).
Further discussing this with his partner later on, she pointed out that my blaming of high commissions couldn’t be the culprit, as when she worked in tour bookings in Cairns 20 years ago, commissions of over 30% were being paid by several larger operators. However, this was normally done in a nudge-nudge, wink-wink cash deal, whereby the standard 20% was officially paid but a one-in-10 whole amount was granted in kind.
The difference back then, of course, was 1) lack of regulation expenses 2) massive volume 3) cheaper wages 4) no GST/superannuation and 5) way less dependency on actual travel agent bookings for the majority of tours, the bookings coming from accommodation houses. Also at the time, the low Aussie dollar didn’t push travellers to go for the cheapest possible deal and hostels weren’t taking commission or paying it, for that matter.
Word of mouth and a reasonably positive write up in Lonely Planet/Let`s Go/Rough Guide was enough to guarantee steady numbers, with a few hundred dollars per annum for ads (specials as a hook) in Aussie Backpacker, The Word and, yes, TNT Magazine, sufficing to cover advertising costs.
Agents and newcomers to our industry can believe me when I say yes, we “old stagers” hark back to the good old days so fondly for a bloody good reason! Stress back then was having five empty beds in peak season! Or running out of coins for the pay phone! Or getting thrown in the pool when attempting to quell the noise at 1am!
Well, Mission Beach is about so much more than skydiving and rafting but agents can`t make any money out of travellers watching the sun rise out of the Coral Sea or phosphorescence dancing in the waves on a starry night or the sheer bliss of hanging in a hammock under a palm tree.
Anyhow, I am all about the experience and Australia needs to realise our unique strengths (tranquility, space, isolation, warmth of climate and attitude, peace) are too often seen as our weaknesses by those who judge a tourism ‘experience’ by its cost, not its value!
Until the majority of our tourism industry`s major players embrace this simple fact, many visitors to Mission Beach will continue to miss out on gliding over the sea past turtles and dugongs in two-man kayaks and marvelling at the Milky Way beside a beach bonfire.