09 Feb 2022

Ready to embrace influx – opinion editorial

Two years ago, we effectively pulled the shutters down, closing the gates to international tourists, to protect our country from a then little-known virus. That’s when the first restrictions on travel from China were introduced – our state’s then most valuable international market – and when we all learnt a lot more about how a pandemic really hits.

That’s meant two years of the most severe contraction of tourism on record, devastating businesses not just here but around the world.

That’s why Monday February 21, 2022 is a day that will mean so much for recovering South Australia’s once record-high $8.1 billion visitor economy. It is a much-needed light at the end of a very long tunnel. By no means are we necessarily out of that tunnel yet, but it is progress, a sign of normality, and we are ready.

Throughout the pandemic, the South Australian Tourism Commission has worked to keep South Australia top of mind in our key global markets. We’ve stayed active in markets like the United Kingdom – our most valuable market when China lost its top spot – and in markets like Singapore, United States and New Zealand. We’ve continued working with airlines to ensure that Adelaide routes can be quickly reinstated in line with demand, as we know how important it is to have direct access for tourism, and we’ve continued working with travel agents and wholesalers to ensure that SA is ready to ‘sell’ for this moment.

We are also well placed to maximise the international opportunity over coming years – pent-up demand from Europe and North America after long periods of lockdown means people are looking for destinations with lots of open spaces, diverse experiences and plenty of room to move.

Pre COVID, international tourists spent more than $1.2 billion in our state. It’s an extremely valuable market and one that is particularly crucial for tour operators, CBD hotels, corporate travel, airlines and cruise – and the reopening has been music to the ears of so many in our industry.

While borders were closed, we worked to redirect South Australians to holiday in their own backyard, and they responded in record numbers. Last year, we celebrated seven consecutive months of record-high regional tourism demand – that’s locals getting out and about at rates we have never before seen.

While the interstate market restart has been bumpy, it’s a valuable market and states and territories have jockeyed for pole position to redirect some of the 11 million Australians who normally holiday overseas each year, into their own jurisdiction.

South Australia has punched above its weight; we saw 12.3 million visits to our southaustralia.com website in 2021, an increase of 23 per cent on the year prior. We’ve rolled out six – soon-to-be eight – rounds of our Great State Voucher program, generating more than $94 million for our visitor economy that might not have otherwise been seen. And we’ve created more than $71 million of new and improved tourism infrastructure across SA, to help operators attract even more visitors the second they are able.

With Adelaide’s world-class festival season kicking off just two days ahead of international borders reopening, in line with a record number of Great State Vouchers in market, and domestic tourism slowly rebuilding – there is much to be confident of.

Rodney Harrex is the chief executive of the South Australian Tourism Commission.