Looking back on the year that was Tourism Australia chief Andrew McEvoy says the low points are burnt into our brains, but a smile creeps into his voice when he talks about the year ahead.
If Santa owes anyone a decent present this year, it’s Australia’s tourism operators, especially those in Queensland.
The last time he opened his sack, massive floods and Cyclone Yasi popped out, and that was just the beginning.
Our international markets were rocked by economic tremors, there were earthquakes in New Zealand and tsunamis in Japan, and with the continuing growth in our dollar the number of Aussies heading overseas hit highs never seen before.
More recently the shock grounding of the Qantas fleet sent shock waves through the industry.
“The biggest one for me though would be the macro-economic situation in the UK, Europe and the Americas,” Mr McEvoy said.
“From an inbound perspective that has put a damper on what otherwise has been a pretty good year.”
The highlight for Mr McEvoy, and everyone in the industry, has been the rise and rise of Asia.
And that doesn’t just mean China.
Visitor numbers from Malaysia, Singapore and India have shown double-digit increases, and visitors from across the ditch are increasing as well.
“We’re seeing good growth off the back of big numbers in New Zealand, and Brazil is also a real emerger for us,” he said.
“We saw some fantastic new air capacity this year, particularly driven by the Chinese carriers but also the Middle Eastern carriers.
“But what I would really like for Christmas is for Santa to bring us a royal visit from Will and Kate,” he said with a laugh.
” … a real holiday and adventure visit, where they have a bit of fun and enjoy things.”
Tourism Queensland boss (TQ) Anthony Hayes says 2011 was probably the most challenging year he’d seen in his 20 years in the industry.
“I guess the only word is wow!” Mr Hayes said.
“I’ve never seen a year like it, it’s just been utterly extraordinary.”
The biggest hurdle had been the perception that the entire state was submerged by floods and cyclones in the first two months of the year, he said.
“We overcame the vast majority of those challenges very quickly but what we’ve had to do ever since is rebuild the Queensland story.
“The good news is that we have got the message across and the last quarter was actually very strong; now we have to capitalise on that momentum and work our way into what we hope will be a strong summer.”
That means shifting the focus of advertising campaigns to try to drive stronger sales across summer.
Promotions in the next three months will soak up what TQ would normally spend over eight months.
Federal Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson said he’s been impressed by the industry’s resilience and determination.
“We’ve suffered both domestic and international disasters, side by side with having to manage the impact of a very strong Australian dollar,” Mr Ferguson said.
“We’re up about three per cent on international visitation and we’ve held our own with domestic activity, which is a remarkable achievement.”
The minister praised the strong leadership Tourism Australia has given the industry which, together with excellent cooperation from the states and territories, has created a platform to focus on Australia’s growth markets.
Mr Ferguson said a unified strategic operation is now more important than ever for Australia.
“Our marketing campaign, There’s Nothing Like Australia, now has brand recognition as well as acceptance domestically and internationally,” he said.
“We have to focus on our growth markets like China and India and try to grab them, it’s a one-off opportunity.”
Doubling the tourism dollar from $70 billion in overnight spending to $140 billion by 2020 will continue to be the major focus of the industry.
Domestic tourism is still 72 per cent of all spending in Australia but by 2020 the prediction is that international spending will make up 45 per cent and domestic 55 per cent of the spend.
Andrew McEvoy will be hoping no industrial problems stop his letter getting through to the North Pole in time.