Maximising travel product distribution networks

As Australia tentatively emerges from COVID-19 lockdowns, our sorely impacted travel industry has a beacon of hope – the resurgence of local tourism.

With the closure of international borders, domestic travel will become the “new normal”, with regional destinations benefitting from Australians’ insatiable love of adventure. The challenge now is for local tourism bodies to capitalise on these opportunities, expanding their market share by creating smart packages and expanding their distribution networks.

According to the Tourism Transport Forum, Australia’s tourism industry has suffered terribly during the COVID crisis, bleeding almost $10 billion a month during lockdown. But there is a silver lining as restrictions ease, with the local market poised to capture a slice of the $65 billion that Australians typically spend on overseas holidays each year.

“For those Australians who can afford to do so, we want them to feel an almost patriotic duty to get out and support the jobs and small businesses of their fellow citizens by having whatever Aussie holiday they can,” Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham recently told the National Press Club as he urged Australians to “holiday at home”.

Indeed, as soon as lockdown eased, resilient Aussies packed up the family car and hit the road, continuing the momentum that had started in the wake of the bushfires of buying and travelling locally. For tourism operators, the focus now is how to lure visitors in an increasingly competitive market and encourage them to stay longer and spend more.

“Traditionally, a lot of smaller destinations would have relied on word of mouth or historical travel, people who have been coming year after year,” says Penny Brand, Senior Account Manager at Gate 7. “For instance, the challenge with a destination like Port Macquarie (in NSW) is to think of it not just as a stopover, but a destination in its own right. After the bushfires and COVID and associated restrictions, it’s time to look outside the square.”

Regional Destination Distribution

One way regional tourism bodies and individual operators can pivot in the current climate is to look towards a marketing strategy typically associated with international travel: working with the travel trade to produce tailored packages that add value and highlight what a region has to offer. Of particular appeal, Ms. Brand says, are assets that address current tourism trends – such as wellness, environmentally-friendly activities, and immersive experiences.

“By really highlighting the availability of attractions and different experiences that the consumer can do, it will keep them there longer and spending more in that destination.”

For example, Port Macquarie recently teamed with [online travel agent] Luxury Escapes to create a three-night package, staying at the Mantra and including a wine tour and strawberry picking. That went incredibly well because there were things to do and activities within that stay.”

According to Ms. Brand, working with Australian travel agents on exclusive, value-added deals helps to further a destination’s reach and get more eyes on the product – with the added benefit of supporting small businesses who have also suffered during the pandemic.

“As we know, travel agents have been feeling the pinch dramatically over the last few months, and they are now looking at promoting domestic tourism to their network,” Brand says. “The agents 100 percent need new product – for one, they can’t sell international travel – at least, not in the short term – so they are definitely looking to branch out and promote domestic vacations.”

But for destinations and tourism operators that traditionally have not relied on travel trade, what advantages are to be had by teaming up with agents as a touchpoint for consumers?

“Travel agents traditionally have an incredibly loyal client base that they have been booking for years; they can also put all the different pieces together, such as hiring the car, doing the stopover on the way up, putting the different attractions together,” Brand says, “Also they’re fabulous if anything goes wrong, as we’ve seen over the last horrible four or five months!”

A Quick Win that Pays Dividends

By forging distribution relationships with Australian travel agents, local destinations and operators will not only make themselves front-of-mind for domestic travellers, but they will also position themselves to benefit when international borders do eventually re-open.

“By working with the travel trade, you are opening your product to the inbound market when full restrictions lift – so by making those deals with agents, your product will be available internationally,” Brand says. “So it has a double benefit – for now, the domestic push, the “buy Australia, travel Australia”; and later, internationally as well.”

Of course, COVID-19 may have changed the face of travel permanently; and operators must continue to adapt in order to optimise the booking process and provide security and reassurance to potential visitors. Health and hygiene will remain a priority; while open-ended vouchers and flexible booking conditions will reassure consumers that they won’t lose money in case of a crisis.

“Australians are a very resilient travel market; we are just a lot more adventurous and really quick to rebound,” says Penny Brand. “International travel will eventually resume – but for those who aren’t yet comfortable with travelling overseas, there’s loads for them to do domestically. Everyone wants to help local businesses.”

Regional Tourism Operators – If you’re looking to maximise distribution and sales through Australian travel trade, we can help. Start with our Distribution Analysis and Product Packaging program, a simple program that identifies opportunities to expand your product distribution through 24 travel industry brands along with an educational webinar and practical cheat sheet to empower your local tourism operators to increase theirs.