Destinations

“This is a category six cyclone”: TTNQ boss on coping with COVID and new Aussie markets

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

As far as travel disruption goes, this isn’t tropical north Queensland’s first rodeo.

With a past dotted by flooding and cyclones, Tourism Tropical North Queensland (TTNQ) knows how to navigate its way through a crisis. But this one is new.

“We’re well versed in crisis but this in our minds is a category six cyclone over 12 months, as opposed to a day,” TTNQ CEO Mark Olsen told Travel Weekly during a recent jaunt to Cairns. 

Having only been appointed CEO in August last year, Olsen has had a baptism not only of fire but also of a global pandemic.

“The industry relies very heavily on its advocates so its been a real positive in a way to have the industry come together,” he said.

“But the economic challenge is really ahead of us. Without the support of JobKeeper the real challenge for the industry is still to come.”

TTNQ began campaigning for support from the federal government back in January, seeking subsidies the state had previously been given to ease the aftermath of cyclones on the industry.

According to Olsen, one third of the tourism revenue for the tropical north Queensland community comes from international travellers, which are not predicted to return until some time in 2021.

“Not long after it was first announced and the date was set in September, we could see that there was still a long road ahead for an industry like this one,” he said.

“We were advocating very early in the peace that JobKeeper for this community, in particular, would need to be extended in some way shape or form.

“We’ve got about seven and a half thousand tourism employees in our region supported by JobKeeper, but of those about 5,000 won’t have a job on the 29th of September if JobKeeper isn’t extended in some way.”

As for the other two-thirds of the market, which Olsen said is made up of domestic travellers, the tourism body is looking to share its natural wonders with the rest of Australia to ease the stress of this difficult time.

“We look at ourselves as preventative medicine here in the region,” he said. 

“Australians need to reconnect, they need to reconnect with their community, with their sense of who Australia is at this time and travel is preventative medicine.

“Yes, we need to get our economy right but I think I heard the treasurer say the first thing we need to do is get the health crisis under control and I agree.

“Yes, we deal with the pandemic, then we’ve got to deal with the mental health and the physical health and holidays are a big part of dealing with that.”

Now is also a good time to remember your clients birthdays and anniversaries, because Olsen predicts milestone celebrations will present a new market for domestic travel.

“[Many Australians] planning to take overseas trips for landmark events like milestone birthdays or significant anniversaries are now looking within Austalia,” he said.

“It means besides our normal domestic market which was about relax, recharge, reconnect, there is also a market who is looking to recognise a special moment. [Usually] very high-end travel, very much akin to using outbound travel agents.” 

In this instance, Olsen said, agents should look at Australia as a collection of small countries akin to the Indigenous Australian view of the land.

“It is very much a collection of small countries with separate languages and separate customs so we’re really embracing that idea particularly with our six season approach,” he said. 

“For us it’s about embracing the nuances of the travel seasons and allowing Australians to see us as a global tourism destination of culture, nature, food and luxury in a way that they might see Bali, Fiji or the Maldives.”

However, that doesn’t mean TTNQ will be neglecting the international market.

“The tourism industry is built on long term relationships. This community have been one of the forerunners of international tourism in Australia.

“We have to make sure that while we are focused on the domestic market we dont do that at the cost of our relationships with our international partners. 

“We will continue our efforts internationally because people continue to need to hear and see about the places they have a relationship with.

“We want the people who had planned to come this year we would want to plan to come again.”

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