THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell has called for an urgent response from the Federal Government regarding a critical support package for travel agents who have been decimated by the COVID crisis.

Ms Carnell said close to 1,300 distressed travel agents completed ASBFEO’s online survey last month and have been clinging by a thread as they wait to hear if there will be a lifeline announced by the Federal Government.

“These travel agents, most of whom are small businesses, need help now,” Ms Carnell said.

“Our survey showed that the situation is dire for these travel agents – 98 percent of which told us their revenue has plunged by more than 75 percent since COVID restrictions were introduced in March.

“More than half told us their revenue is down by over 100 percent, meaning they have been paying out more in refunds, including previously made revenue, than they are selling in new business. 

“It’s clear these small businesses are in a world of pain and a support package should be announced as a matter of urgency," Ms Carnell said.

“We know travel agents are working hard to negotiate refunds from travel companies and airlines for their customers. In fact 56 percent of these small businesses said they would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensure customers were reimbursed for the holidays they could no longer take.

“Travel agents have been faced with enormous challenges to get back the deposits paid to travel providers such as offshore cruise ship or tour companies on behalf of their customers. A number of travel agents have complained about Qantas specifically, in terms of the length of time it is taking to refund customers.

“If these small business owners were to walk away now, customers would be unlikely to get a refund. That said, travel agents are losing money by keeping their businesses open as they try to do the right thing for their customers.," she said.

“With international travel restrictions likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, this is an incredibly difficult situation for small businesses in the tourism sector, but travel agents are among the hardest hit and they will need targeted support to continue the important work they are doing.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman’s (ASBFEO) office has been inundated by survey responses from distressed travel agents who testify their businesses have been "decimated" by the COVID crisis.

Ombudsman Kate Carnell said more than 1,000 travel agents had completed ASBFEO’s online survey since it was launched on October 16.

“We’ve had an overwhelming response from mum-and-dad travel agents who are in a world of pain,” Ms Carnell said.

“In just a few days, we have heard from hundreds of travel agents -- 98 percent of which say they have seen their revenue plunge by more than 75 percent since COVID restrictions were introduced in March.

“More than half have told us their revenue has plummeted by over 100 percent meaning they have been paying more out in refunds, including previously made revenue, than they are selling in new business. 

“These travel agents are working around the clock to negotiate refunds from travel companies and airlines for their customers. In fact 56 percent of these small businesses have said they would have already closed down, if not for their commitment to ensure their customers were refunded for holidays they could no longer take," Ms Carnell said.

“It’s important to understand that deposits paid by customers are passed on to travel providers (cruise ship or tour companies for instance) minus the commission for the travel agent. The challenge for the travel agent is to get back the deposit, particularly from offshore companies that are also under enormous financial pressure.

“If these small business owners were to walk away without facilitating customer refunds, there would understandably be a public outcry," she said. "However, these travel agents’ businesses are losing money by staying open and working to do the right thing for their customers.

“Sadly, nearly all (98%) of the travel agents impacted by the COVID restrictions have reported their businesses were growing prior to this crisis.

“At this early stage, we are still consulting with the industry regarding what assistance is required, but it is clear that a targeted response will be needed," Ms Carnell said.

“With international travel restrictions likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, this is an incredibly difficult situation for small businesses in the tourism sector, but my office will be working towards making economically sensible recommendations to the government that will help travel agents in the near term.”

www.asbfeo.gov.au

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THE  Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) has welcomed the Federal Government’s commitment to backing recommendations which have come out of the independent review into the administration of the Export Market Development Grants (EMDG) scheme.

ATEC managing director Peter Shelley said as a leading, future focused industry, tourism businesses would be at the forefront of Australia’s economic recovery and EMDG grants will support the success of tourism exporters.

“We are pleased the government has adopted in-principle the recommendations of the review and particularly those put forth by ATEC on behalf of Australia’s export tourism industry,” Mr Shelley said. 

“Changes to the administration of the scheme and how the rules are applied will be removed from the legislation, making it more flexible and adaptable to the needs of the industry and the evolving nature of export markets. Flexibility in the administration of the EMDG program has been something ATEC has been asking for for a long time.

“It's also important to ensure tourism businesses who access these grants are ready for export, having completed a quality training program which gives them the essential tools they need to maximise export success.

“Changing the funding model so that businesses receive grants before they embark on their international marketing strategies will help our cash strapped tourism businesses to rebuild their markets as we head out of this crisis," he said.

Mr Shelley said the success of Australia’s tourism export sector has been an enviable part of the economy delivering one in 12 jobs and more than $350 billion in traveller spending over the past decade.

“For all of its success, the tourism industry has required little by way of government support or oversight and while the industry has been able to grow and prosper off its own steam, there is now a vital role for the Government to play in supporting the industry through this crisis and back to operational success," Mr Shelley said.

“We look forward to working closely with the government on the revised scheme’s rules, design and guidelines in the coming months.”

Read about the review recommendations here.

www.tourismdrivesgrowth.com.au

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HONG KONG Tourism Board (HKTB) has announced that Hong Kong has been recently chosen as the host city for four international MICE (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) events, including the city’s first-ever events of high strategic values, and two repeated events amidst the COVID-19 challenges.

These business events are expected to bring in about 10,000 high-yield visitors in total and deliver great economic contribution to the city and drive multi-sector development, according to HKTB chairman, YK Pang, 

“We are excited to see Hong Kong winning such strategically important MICE events against competitors around the world," Dr YK Pang said.

"It is encouraging to see major events to be held in our city for the very first time, such as the International Airline Transport Association (IATA) World Cargo Symposium, Asia Sports Technology Conference and the Congress of the Asian Society of Transplantation (CAST) 2023. It demonstrates international event organisers’ confidence in Hong Kong as a strategic, safe and hygienic destination for high-profile business events.

"The HKTB will continue to proactively engage international and Hong Kong organisers to bid for hosting rights of major MICE events and step up efforts in attracting repeated events with a view to maintain Hong Kong’s status as The World’s Meeting Place.”

One of the MICE strategic focuses of the HKTB is medical science. The winning of The Congress of Asian Society of Cardiovascular Imaging (ASCI) 2022 certainly gives Hong Kong’s MICE industry a shot in the arm. 

Dr Lilian Leong, founding president and immediate past president of the Hong Kong College of Radiologists, pointed out the city’s reputation in related profession and all-round support to MICE organisers were the key winning factors of the bid.

“Hong Kong’s world-leading position in medical science, especially in radiology and cardiology, certainly sets it apart from its competitions," Dr Leong said. "Also, Meetings and Exhibitions Hong Kong (MEHK), a division of the HKTB, provides professional one-stop services in every step since the bidding stage. We are grateful for the support we received.”

Another event organiser,  Phillip King, founder and chairman of Varcis Group Ltd, explained his decision of why Hong Kong is chosen to host the first Asia Sports Technology Conference in the Greater China region.

“As the gateway to Mainland China and its burgeoning sports market, with a superb infrastructure, strong financial and investment credentials, excellent IP protection and common law, plus an excellent Innovation and Technology Hub with a thriving start-up ecosystem, Hong Kong is the ideal destination for hosting this first-ever sports tech conference in the Greater China region, as it also plays a pivotal role in the Greater Bay Area," Mr King said. "We strongly believe we will draw one of the largest number of attendees from the APEC region for a sports tech event hosted in Asia.”

Hong Kong’s unrivalled core strengths also attract the return of past events, according to Dr Pang.

Vertical Expo Services Company Limited chief executive and organiser of Asia Funeral and Cemetery Expo and Conference 2021, Kenny Lo casted his vote of confidence in Hong Kong.

"Since the first edition came to Hong Kong back in 2009, the show has gradually developed into the largest international expo and conference of its kind in the Asia Pacific region," Mr Lo said. "We have every confidence that the city will bring our next three editions to even greater height.”

The HKTB has prepared a series of recovery campaigns for the MICE industry and is closely monitoring the development of the pandemic in various source markets. The campaigns will be launched when the time is right.

Details of the events are:

Event

Highlights

Expected size

Proposed date

Asia Sports Technology Conference 2021

First B2B sports tech conference held in Hong Kong and the Greater China region

1,100

First Quarter of 2021

International Airline Transport Association (IATA) World Cargo Symposium 2022

·         Largest international air cargo convention

·         First time in Hong Kong

1,200

Mar 2022

The Congress of Asian Society of Cardiovascular Imaging (ASCI) 2022

Returned to Hong Kong after 11 years since Hong Kong last held the congress in 2011

700

Jun 2022

The Congress of the Asian Society of Transplantation (CAST) 2023

·         Asia’s largest and longest running medical convention on transplantation

·         First time in Hong Kong

1,200

Aug 2023

Asia Crypto Week in 2021

Largest cryptocurrency and blockchain technology event in Asia

>2,000

Mar 2021

Asia Funeral and Cemetery Expo & Conference 2021, 2023 & 2025

Largest of the trade in Asia

6,400

2021, 2023, 2025

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COVID-19’s immediate impact on domestic tourist movements across Australia will extend to sweeping long-term changes in tourist behaviour, according to a new survey assessing the future of domestic tourism in Australia.

Researchers at Flinders University have found that people are flagging future changes to their activity engagement, modes of transport, and the types of accommodation they will select once restrictions are further relaxed or eventually removed.

The survey shows that most recipients remain very cautious about recommencing leisure travel and have a list of limiting factors that will influence their future engagement in domestic and international holidays, according to lead authors Gareth Butler, a senior lecturer in tourism management, and Gerti Szili, a lecturer in geography at Flinders University. 

Dr Butler and Dr Szili found that almost 93 percent of recipients placed the safety and wellbeing of themselves and their families as the most important factor when choosing to re-engage in either domestic or international leisure travel.

They deduced that more than 85 percent of potential travellers were concerned about the safety and wellbeing of host communities at destinations they would visit.

Other strong concerns voiced by survey recipients were their strained financial situation, fears of encountering a second wave of COVID-19 infections, and the possible need to self-quarantine after travelling.

Despite these concerns, two-thirds (67.2%) expected to take intrastate overnight holidays within three months, and 80 percent wanted to re-engage in day trips within three months after restrictions are relaxed or removed.

However, 29.4 percent remain ‘unsure’ when they would take interstate holidays, even if restrictions relax.

ACTIVITIES CHANGE

The survey results also drilled into what types of activities tourists plan to engage in, and it showed a sharp decline in people prepared to attend sporting events and cultural festivals/events (more than 20 percent), with drops also registered in tourist re-engagement of most other activities. The notable exception was that more tourists would be keen to engage in planned exercise when on holiday.

Changes in tourism transport choices showed expected growth in private car and campervan use for leisure journeys, but a sharp decline in all other forms of transport use (aircraft, mini-buses and coaches, taxis, public transport) and  especially cruise ships (by a whopping 57.1%).

Changes in accommodation choices will lead to a substantial growth in the use of personal properties for leisure, although guest houses and bed and breakfast accommodation also likely to become more popular.

The use of hotels, motels and resorts is expected to remain stable, but more than 42 percent said they would avoid backpacker hostels.

The full report will be available from Flinders University on August 21, 2020.

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By Ellen Boonstra, Asia correspondent >> 

IS THIS what the future of travel will look like? This fantastical looking rendering was conceived by the famous and Bangkok-based architect Bill Bensley, affectionately known as the ‘Willy Wonka’ of hotel design.

When approached by a client to design a zoo with some 2000-plus hotel rooms in Wuchuan, southern China, he decided to turn the idea upside down and create an opulent zoo looking out over a wildlife sanctuary where beasts roam free, dedicating 95 percent of the land to the animals.

Already the project has garnered a lot of hype for the scope of its ambition and the depth of the ingenuity behind it.

Scheduled to be built on what is now a duck farm, the grounds of the first resort will house exotic animals from all over China – and travellers from around the world who will stay in 2400 rooms.

Around US$1million dollars has been allocated for each of these palatial suites.

SPECTACULAR NEW ECO RESORTS

Two new resorts Mr Bensley is designing will incorporate elements of Tibetan splendor and Bhutanese folklore, in China; while his property planned for Australia will meld frontier influences from the country’s gold rush; and one of his African hotels is based on termite mounds.

Thinking outside the box is the American designer’s forte and raison d’etre. After all, this is the man who masterminded the Shinta Mani Wild resort in Cambodia where guests ‘fly in’ by using a zipwire over the jungle.

But there’s a deep appreciation of nature underneath the surface of his idiosyncratic designs.

The Cambodian resort helps to preserve the Southern Cardamom National Park by contributing money to the Wildlife Alliance anti-poaching patrols.

Many of his other designs like The Siam in Bangkok are rife with natural elements. 

Similarly, the new resort in China will include and draw attention to the plight of endangered species like pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal, just as it will serve as a safe haven for animals rescued from deplorable attractions across China.  

THE HOTELIERS AND THE ZOOLOGIST

To make sure that the first resort is fully sustainable and animal-friendly Mr Bensley has hired a full-time zoologist.

This zoologist will also participate in the train tours around the animal sanctuary to stop at eight separate spots. Each stop will impart a different lesson about environmental responsibility and wildlife conservation.

With big-time hoteliers on board – such as Hilton, Conrad and Hyatt – to manage the properties, World Wild promises to be a game-changer in eco-hotels.

No need to make a booking just yet. The project will only break ground this year and is slated to open in 2022.

This is only the first phase of the World Wild project, expected to take eight years, which will include other resorts with green themes in Australia and Africa.

www.bensley.com

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THE FINANCIAL assistance package for Gold Coast theme parks will allow Ardent Leisure to implement the staged re-opening of Dreamworld and WhiteWater World, with both parks expected to re-open in mid-September, ahead of the school holiday period.

The support package was jointly announced this week by Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk and State Development, Tourism and Innovation Minister, Kate Jones.

“We appreciate the Queensland Government’s strong recognition of the important role that the theme park industry plays in the economic development of Queensland and the broader tourism industry in Australia," Ardent Leisure Theme Parks and Attractions chief executive officer, John Osborne said. 

"The Queensland Government’s foresight in providing this financial assistance package will enable Ardent to re-open its iconic theme parks, continue to employ hundreds of people and continue to invest in future tourism infrastructure and create more local jobs.

“We are very excited about welcoming back our valued team members and loyal guests and have already commenced preparations for the re-opening of our parks, including the implementation of our Queensland Health approved COVID SAFE Plan.” 

The September re-opening date for Dreamworld and WhiteWater World will be confirmed over the next week. 

www.dreamworld.com.au

 

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