By Julie Baxter
Australia’s tourism sector is welcoming international travellers with new hotels and visitor attractions
I recently received a letter from Australia. Inside were photos – yes, old-school, traditional prints, sent by my relatives Down Under with news of newborns and new jobs, of family picnics and birthday celebrations, student successes and anniversaries marked.
The letter told of toasts that had been raised in Sydney, Tasmania and Adelaide: “To absent friends,” they’d said, for me and my UK family, ruled out from any of their Australian gatherings for nearly two years now –not by the historic barriers of cost or distance, but by the travel rules of a pandemic.
The letter arrived just as news of the Omicron variant hit the headlines and that has triggered new internal border controls Down Under and a decision to delay the reopening of international borders to most leisure visitors (only some restricted categories including working holidaymakers can currently enter).
No doubt a reopening roadmap will emerge early in 2022. The government already has its eye on tourism recovery with a THRIVE 2030 strategy, focused on ‘The Re-Imagined Visitor Economy’, and designed to drive long-term sustainable growth.
Now that borders have reopened, the classic Visiting Friends and Relative (VFR) sector will surely be the first to reap the rewards.
In 2019, 52% of the 715,000 arrivals from the UK to Australia were VFR travellers.
Once a little derided as a market that didn’t spend much (staying with relatives rather than booking hotels and tours), today these are sophisticated travellers who combine time with the ‘reles’ with road trips and tours, and often encourage their extended Aussie family to travel with them.
“We expect VFR travellers will be among the first to make the journey in order to be reunited with their friends and family,” says Sally Cope, Regional General Manager, UK & Northern Europe for Tourism Australia.
“What we at Tourism Australia want to do for this audience is to inspire them to use the opportunity to travel in and around Australia with their loved ones. After such a prolonged period of separation, it’s a time to really create memories together that will last a lifetime.”
This sector is highly motivated to travel, loyal to the destination and in the habit of repeat booking. They are also likely to be reassured by the fact that Australia has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world. Boosters are being rolled out too.
The fact that domestic tourism has remained buoyant means there are plenty of new products and experiences for visitors to discover.
The holy hat-trick of the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru Red Centre Rock and Sydney Harbour have long been the iconic must-sees for travellers down under and even repeat travellers will likely want to include some old favourites in their itineraries. New at the reef is the Museum of Underwater Art (MOUA), the only underwater art museum in the Southern Hemisphere. And in Sydney there’s a new twist on the Harbour BridgeClimb with an indigenous storyteller now sharing tales from his heritage for the Burrawa Climb.
For those willing to ring the changes, there is the alternative of Ningaloo Reef, the Pinnacles and Wave Rock in Western Australia, or perhaps the gorges and Aboriginal heritage beyond Uluru at Katherine Gorge; or The Flinders Ranges out of Adelaide.
Lockdown has had us all getting closer to nature and few destinations can beat the eco-credentials of wilderness Tasmania or the rainforest experiences of Queensland. New to the mix is Australia’s only floating wood-fired sauna, Floating Sauna Lake Derby, where visitors combine a traditional sauna with a cold plunge into the freshwater of Briseis Hole. Or, focus on the river regions for retreats such as the exclusive Marramarra Lodge on the Hawkesbury River, offering a bush experience with accommodation in Peninsula Tents.
The new Kalbarri Skywalk in Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia, is set likely to become a must-do with two cantilevered viewing platforms over the Murchison Gorge, river and surroundings.
South Australia now has the largest safari park outside of Africa following the reopening of Monarto Zoo, 50 minutes from Adelaide, as a safari park complete with southern white rhino and Australia’s largest giraffe herd.
Even most city stays are close enough to national parks to combine with hikes in the great outdoors, or perhaps some glamping as now offered at the elegant Australian eco-retreat nestled within Taronga Zoo, overlooking Sydney Harbour.
Perth’s off-shore island destination, Rottnest, has a new resort too – Samphire Rottnest – set within the natural habitat of the A Class Reserve and designed to immerse its guests in the natural elements.
The wide open roads of Australia are just made for driving holidays. Along the dramatic craggy coast of Victoria on the Great Ocean Road, Wildlife Wonders is a new protected habitat creating a good stop-off for guided walks among bushland wildlife, overlooking the ocean and the Otway Ranges. Or, for those joining the dots of the coastal resorts along the Pacific Coast route between Sydney and Queensland, flag up the Port Stephens Koala Sanctuary with a skywalk in the treetops to view koalas in their natural habitat. For those with a sense of adventure suggest trips into the Red Centre from Darwin or Adelaide, or out of Perth on the Gibb River Road for memorable 4WD adventures.
Australia’s cities deliver on style and entertainment and are small enough to be manageable but big enough to offer a huge diversity of activity.
Sydney now has its first six-star hotel, Crown Sydney, housed in the city’s tallest building at the newly- developed Barangaroo waterfront precinct. It features a spa and Nobu restaurant (among 14 eateries), large outdoor pool and great harbour views.
Melbourne too has new openings including the W Melbourne, with four restaurants and bars.
On eco-trend, sustainably-led hospitality company, Crystalbrook Collection, has launched Crystalbrook Vincent in the heart of Brisbane’s Howard Smith Wharves, with a five-star property carved into a cliff face below the city’s historic Story Bridge.
In Canberra a new chef-driven food hall, Verity Lane Market, will create a gastronomic ground zero.
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