Wholesalers

“Lets get out there”: Matt Cameron-Smith talks domestic tourism boom and agents’ role in “de-risking” travel

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

AAT Kings Group CEO Matt Cameron-Smith has shed some light on The Travel Corporation’s plan to add more domestic trips across its brands.

Cameron-Smith, who was appointed CEO of the newly formed group in February, said he has been working with sister brands Trafalgar and Insight Vacations to expand their domestic offerings with five more itineraries each in both Australia and New Zealand.

“That’ll give around another 47 departures between now and February that we can offer to trade and consumers,” he told Travel Weekly, adding that he predicts we will see some movement on those trips by early June. 

“And very importantly, it gives our trade partners something to sell.

“They need revenue as well, and I think this will really engage the retail community in what domestic travel has to offer and, certainly, there’ll be a border range.”

AAT Kings Group includes four distinctive brands with three travel styles; AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys guided holidays, AAT Kings short breaks and day tours, Down Under Tours in north Queensland and See It Outback Australia, a boutique Indigenous day touring company.

“We recognised the leveraging opportunities and by forming the group, we have a more collegiate approach to our operational base, our cost base and also in terms of distribution,” Cameron-Smith said. 

“The formation of the group also makes us the largest land-based touring operator we think in the south pacific, certainly in this part of the world.”

With international travel off the cards for the foreseeable future and the promise of domestic travel on the horizon, the group seems to be in good stead to absorb a large portion of the widely predicted domestic travel boom.

Cameron-Smith said the brand has been working hard to ready its fleet and introduce thorough vetting of its suppliers while travel is in a standstill.

“While our fleet’s been hibernating, we’ve been incredibly busy refining our operating procedures, installing contactless hand sanitizer dispenser in every vehicle across the entire fleet and retraining our staff in the federal government’s COVID-19 training certification,” he said.

“We’re introducing new cleaning procedures just to make sure everyone feels they are in a secure environment, we’re also working with our partners, hotels, restaurants, vineyards, cafes, to make sure that the standards align and that our entire supply chain holds to that standard.

“I think you’ll find Australia will offer a very secure environment and a very hygienic travel environment.”

Getting a head start on the “new normal” of travel by opening the country up for domestic holidaymakers will Australia an advantage when international travel does commence.

“When international does recommence, I think you’ll find we could be set for an inbound boom as well given that we’re seen as a very safe destination,” Cameron-Smith said. 

Naturally, the travel agent community has expressed concerns over whether it will see a slice of the domestic pie, but Cameron-Smith said the uncertainty surrounding travel in the era of COVID-19 will place agents in good stead.

“I think it [agents’ share of domestic bookings] will change in that consumers are now very wary about booking travel in these conditions and so on based on some media coverage,” he said. 

“But if you want advice on travel, you should speak to an expert, and that’s travel agents.

“I think you will see people gravitate towards travel agents for advice, for security, for peace of mind, and certainly, travel agents play a very big role in de-risking travel as well as giving expert travel advice. 

The entire Travel Corporation family of brands has really been built on working with travel agents and we don’t see that changing.”

Most importantly, Cameron-Smith believes travel has the power to help rebuild Australia.

“We’ve always been very passionate about the power of travel to deliver back to the tourism economy and you’re seeing more and more in media and political commentary how important the travel industry will be to helping our economy repair,” he said. 

“I think also, more importantly, it’ll help our people repair because we’ve all been penned up. We all wanna go somewhere and if Australia is the only place we can go then that’s a pretty good card to have.

“We are the lucky country I know how that sounds, but there’s so much diversity, so much richness of experience here in Australia and New Zealand that if our only option right now is this region we kinda got the long straw in terms of what we can do.

“You’ll never feel more welcome because regional Australia needs you so badly. Let’s get out there.”

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