Spotlight on the Americas
21 April 2021
Life is looking brighter day by day as the vaccine rollout picks up pace. Last week in the US, all adults became eligible to book a vaccine. Our team and partners are progressively getting vaccinated and I’ve received my first dose. As of the end of last week, 212 million doses had been administered, with more than half of US adults having received one dose and a third now fully vaccinated. As a result, there is a marked rise in optimism and excitement that the US will be able to extensively reopen with sensible precautions by around mid-June and celebrate this coming Independence Day with loved ones. There is significant coverage in media and feedback from industry partners on the very high level of pent-up demand for travel. While the pandemic has caused much financial distress to many, there are also many people who have increased household savings and are eager to make up for lost time, keen to reconnect with others and splurge on the experiences they have been missing and dreaming about the past 12 months. US March retail sales showed a 9.8 per cent increase from February, attributed to stimulus checks and easing social distancing standards.
In Canada, the vaccine rollout has been slower due to supply constraints and some restrictions have been tightened, for example Ontario is in a lockdown and British Columbia is facing additional restrictions as well. Around 22 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose. Government health care workers will be redeployed to Ontario as hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care units continue to reach highs. The government has a target to secure 44 million doses by end of June and more than enough supply by September.
We are not through the woods yet, the experience has been and continues to be very mixed depending on local conditions, with upticks in new COVID cases in some areas. There are concerns about new variants and not letting our guard down too soon, but with the vaccine rollout, it is exciting to have some real ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.
The past year of course has been harrowing for most of our stakeholders and while the majority continue to operate, many people have lost jobs or hours and the current reality and future looks very different from what people imagined just over a year ago. Many have had to look at shifts in business models. As some destinations are now reopening to international visitors who are vaccinated or who can present negative COVID tests, operators able to sell those destinations are naturally focused on those opportunities.
We are very encouraged and appreciative of the incredible level of engagement and support that partners have shown for Australia throughout the year, from those that specialise in the destination to those that sell the world. We had excellent industry and media participation in Australia Marketplace Online in October last year and have 123 buyers signed up to participate in ATE in June.
We’ve also been impressed by the commitment of many travel advisors to using this crisis to participate in online education opportunities and increase their knowledge.
So far this financial year, we have trained over 6,000 agents between the USA and Canada and maintained a strong pool of more than 3,000 qualified Aussie Specialists. We also have a pipeline of 1,300 trainees we are actively working with to become qualified Specialists.
We have continued to implement a range of initiatives in the Aussie Specialist channel to keep our valued community engaged, including a new Facebook group for Aussie Specialists which has grown to nearly 900 active members, webinars and other fun and interactive educational initiatives and destination spotlights.
The team has had a strong presence across virtual event platforms with a focus towards premium and adventure whilst ensuring we cater to broader interest categories and leverage large industry associations. With the growing rate of vaccinations, we expect a big return to in-person events in market in the second half of the year. I know all of the team have been missing seeing our partners in person and are very excited to reconnect with everyone in person as soon as it’s safe to do so.
This pandemic has obviously been very painful for our airline partners and we continue to connect regularly to understand their status and get ready for recovery initiatives. Throughout the pandemic United Airlines has continued to fly between San Francisco and Sydney and United, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have brought back services between Los Angeles and Sydney. Qantas is planning to reinstate international services from end of October, subject to timing of borders reopening.
In the Business Events sector there is increasing optimism as the vaccine rolls out and we are seeing more leads for 2022 onwards for incentives and meetings.
We do expect that while Australia will not be the first destination to reopen to North American visitors, we will have very strong advantages when we do. Australia offers the safety, space and pristine environments that people will prize in their post-pandemic travel. Resilient tourism operators have adapted and we’ve had great new product open despite the challenges of the past year. Australia has always ranked top of lists of destinations North Americans most want to visit and, after the experience of the past year, we believe more people will prioritize those destinations and experiences they most desire.
This is supported by our consumer sentiment tracking research. In March, 64 per cent of US respondents said they wanted to visit Australia and 45 per cent said it was on their top list of countries to visit once the crisis is over. In Canada, 61 per cent wanted to visit and 32 per cent said it was on their top list of destinations when travel resumes.
Many of you will be familiar with the overall approach Tourism Australia is taking to this crisis. We are acting in two parts. First, we want to keep consumer and industry audiences engaged while borders remain closed. We are cognisant that many of our industry partners are trying to survive and have limited to no capacity for marketing, so we want to make sure we are sensibly ‘flying the flag’ for Australia and continuing to inspire people to make Australia part of their post pandemic trip plans. And we want to ensure we have plans in place to immediately support recovery as soon as borders reopen.
Throughout this year, we have had an always-on search, social media and content program with a basic investment to keep consumers inspired to visit Australia when travel resumes. The team has been very active on the public relations front with inspirational content and we have maintained a robust virtual trade engagement program.
In our consumer marketing, we’ve had strong content engagement on Facebook and Instagram and run content with Apple News, New York Times and National Geographic among others. We have promoted the wonderful immersive 8D videos you may be familiar with, and encouraged audiences to explore more inspirational content on Australia.com. Last week we launched a new video series with Lonely Planet leveraging Australia being awarded in their 2021 Best in Travel list. The series explores the diversity of experiences that Australia offers and showcases the recovery of bushfire affected areas, strong Indigenous heritage, well-known Australian icons and off-the-beaten-path natural wonders.
In the public relations space, we have worked with state and territory partners to proactively seed stories promoting Australia as a safe, desirable destination for when borders reopen. We have run virtual events, from the successful Live from Aus last year to a ‘Taste of Australia’ cook-along event, hosted by celebrated Michelin starred Chef Curtis Stone for 19 top US and Canadian media last month, which attracted extensive broadcast, digital and social coverage. We are collaborating with another Friend of Australia, Dan Churchill, on a series of broadcast segments on healthy living Aussie style over coming weeks. We have also identified broadcast partnership opportunities leveraging talent already in Australia, including Renee Bargh, TV presenter of EXTRA and other top US and international programs, showcasing Australia’s wildlife, regeneration of animal habitats post bushfires, Indigenous culture and much more.
At the same time, we are continually refreshing our recovery plans, which of course will be focused on driving conversion through a range of partnerships.
This may sound a little odd but regularly checking the US CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) COVID Data Tracker site and seeing the impressive progress on the vaccine rollout has given me encouragement. Seeing friends and colleagues getting their vaccines, my husband and I getting our first dose. Seeing businesses and restaurants reopen.
Seeing this kind of discussion in the media (from a recent CNN opinion piece): “As vaccination rates have soared (even with all the new variants and surges adding some uncertainty to the mix) it's become clear that when the lockdowns finally lift, Americans will be primed for a new Roaring '20s, an exuberance expressed in fashion, art, music -- anywhere we can display the kind of manic joy that comes after a year when the world became very small and quiet.”
This past year has also forced everyone to reflect on what’s important and how we live our lives and we’ll carry some of those lessons forward.
And it’s Spring!
We are very appreciative of the strong engagement with virtual platforms such as Australia Marketplace Online and the upcoming virtual ATE. We need to be creative to keep Australia top of mind for consumers and industry with prolonged border closures and want to spotlight all the positive and interesting stories we can. Stay engaged with key distribution partners in market, we know they are looking for ways to rebuild consumer confidence and secure as strong a pipeline of future business as possible. The more informed they are, the better they will be able to communicate the desirability and safety of Australia as a destination, as well as any additional flexibility that can be provided as reassurance.
And a huge thank you for your engagement with us and your strength and resilience in navigating through this crisis so that we truly can offer international visitors the most desirable and memorable vacations in Australia when borders reopen. North America will again be one of the most important tourism markets for Australia and we look forward to working with you to rebuild.