(Featured in The Byte, 11 June 2014)
Conferences are always good occasions for the meeting of minds and the Australian Youth Travel Conference 2014 was no different. All the big players were there; the major hostel chains, adventure sports operators, State Tourism Organisations and of course, Tourism Australia. The message from TA was that there have never been so many young visitors in Australia.
In 2013, just over 1.6 million people aged between 15-29 visited Australia for leisure, working holidays, study or visiting friends and relatives. Of course the reasons for visiting, spending patterns and crucially their dispersal across the country vary enormously between the different markets. This is something which the conference programme sought to deal with in detail, with dedicated sessions on the advanced and emerging inbound markets, as well as a session dealing with social media strategy and the importance of getting involved in environmental protection.
At first sight it would appear that the industry is in excellent position to capitalise on the rise of young Asian travellers going to Australia to study and travel for leisure, and those from growing markets much further afield such as France, Italy and Greece (which recently signed an agreement on working holiday visas with the Australian government).
At the same time, the young travellers visiting Australia today (Millennials, ‘Gen C’ Travellers) are very different to their parents’ generation who kicked off the backpacking trend in the country. If they’re from the UK or Ireland they’ve invariably got a friend or family member working and living in the country and they arrive with a better understanding of what to expect. If they are German they may be looking to rapidly enhance their résumé in the space of only a few months before heading home to study or work. If they are Chinese, they may be coming to study and can expect a visit from their parents during the year, and a family holiday with some touring thrown in.
All travellers are arriving loaded with the technology which helps them to find the best deals around and share their experience with friends in other time zones. It also allows them to complain instantly about poor service and standards, meaning that quality control has become a 24/7 issue for operators of all kinds.
Having travelled a little in Australia (and New Zealand) now, I feel strongly that some accommodation providers in particular are not keeping up with the competition overseas. Keeping hostels clean, tidy and welcoming is a tall order with such a high throughput of guests, especially in city centres. However the competition in Europe has, in the last decade or so turned a corner and started to master it well. By contrast, some properties I’ve stayed in (marketed as being models of cool urban chic) are crumbling round the edges and are not pleasant places to stay.
During my keynote presentation I asked the delegates to consider whether the formula that the industry had followed over the last few decades is necessarily going to guarantee success in the years to come. Australia’s great natural wonders, cultural heritage and good service aren’t about to disappear (but without investment, preservation and hard work, they easily could). But the industry’s future success does hinge on the following questions:
1. Does the industry understand the emerging markets as well as it should?
2. Will the existing youth travel ‘infrastructure’ (accommodation, activities, transport…) meet the needs of travellers (those from emerging and advanced markets) in the future?
3. What distribution channels (for accommodation, flights, local transport, activity bookings..) are proving most effective today, and how could they change in the future?
4. Will the government always lead from the front in youth travel?
5. Will Australia always be able to offer value for money to the budget traveller?
6. How can we improve the quality of cooperation in the Australian youth travel industry?
It’s only by coming together as an industry at events like AYTC that the Australian youth travel industry can find solutions to these questions, and work with the government to put them into action.
Peter Jordan, Founder, Gen C Traveller www.genctraveller.org