Hotels

Matthew Cameron-Smith talks domestic tourism, Indigenous experiences and his first 100 days at Voyages

Matthew Cameron-Smith’s first 100 days as CEO of Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia have been… interesting to say the least.

The former head of AAT Kings and Inspiring Journeys is no stranger to domestic travel, but domestic travel during a global pandemic is a whole new kettle of fish.

We caught up with Cameron-Smith after celebrating his first 100 days at a delicious dinner among an Indigenous rooftop garden in Redfern…

Travel Weekly: How are you finding the new role and what attracted you to working for Voyages?

Matthew Cameron-Smith: Like any role in travel and tourism at the moment, it has its challenges including those that come from left field (regularly).

I’m very fortunate to have an amazing team and what attracted me drives us all – enriching people’s lives through cultural tourism, delivering authentic indigenous experiences and creating employment opportunities for indigenous Australians to work in tourism.

TW: With state borders beginning to open, how can the industry encourage Aussies to travel domestically in a way that benefits Indigenous Australians?

MCS: Stay focused on the opportunity that is domestic. Package up meaningful experiences rather than just the basics. Encourage Australians to go off the beaten track and really explore their own country understanding that tourism and the visitor economy will play a very real part on the industries and the country’s road to recovery.

TW: What does Voyages relationship with travel agents look like?

MCS: It remains very strong and we are as committed as ever to working with our trade partners.

TW: Is there a reason the company’s Northern Territory property is called Ayres Rock Resort? Are there any plans to change the name to Uluru Resort or something similar?

MCS: You are not the first ones to ask that! We have done a lot of research and consultation on that matter, and it’s important to note that ‘Uluru’ is actually a family name of the traditional owners, and not using ‘Uluru Resort’ rather than Ayers Rock Resort is by agreement with the local community.

TW: What is Voyages doing to encourage Australians to ‘Holiday Here This Year’?

MCS: We love the Tourism Australia initiative and use it every chance we get. Voyages has offered many deals to be part of the marketing campaigns and worked closely with Jetstar to ensure we have the right campaigns in the market at the right time in order to stimulate demand and visitation.

During the closure of Ayers Rock Resort through the COVID-19 pandemic, Voyages Indigenous Tourism Australia took the opportunity to bring forward its $50 million plan for an extensive refurbishment of the property as well as upgrades to nearby airport infrastructure, including new screening areas for enhanced security.

The refurbishment encompasses extensive upgrades at the five-star Sails in the Desert seeing improved guest rooms and suites alongside an upgraded lobby, swimming pool and restaurant. Further upgrades were completed at The Lost Camel, as well as the much-needed replacement of toilet blocks and bathrooms in the campground.

TW: Considering its connections and touchpoints with vulnerable Indigenous communities, what is Voyages stance on domestic borders reopening?

MCS: The wellbeing of the community, our guests and our staff have been at the forefront of our reopening plans, and we continue to work closely with the health authorities to ensure the highest possible standard of protocols.

In addition to the extensive health regime within the resort, Ayers Rock Airport has the highest standards of any domestic airport in the country, as we are the only port that screens pre-departure as well as post-arrival.

TW: COVID restrictions aside, what are the main issues Voyages faces?

MCS: Putting aside domestic and international borders for the moment, like many regional leisure properties, we face the real challenge of staffing as we ramp up. This, combined with managing the ever-changing expectations of guests, will remain a challenge but is one we will take head-on.

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