Gearing up for a big year in tourism

The Outback Aussie Tour team at the Christmas Lights Tour last year.

By Michael R Williams

With both success and tribulations in 2021, the new year has local tourism businesses excited for what is looking to be their biggest year on record.

Many operators have seen success throughout 2020 despite lockdown-related hiccups, but many of those hiccups had devasted the deeper potential for financial success the year had.

Outback Aussie Tours owner operator Alan Smith said the company’s boat cruise is already two-thirds booked for the year.

He said the volatility of bookings and cancellations had changed the operational conditions on the road and in the marketplace, had put a lot of pressure on his team and suppliers.

“They (staff and suppliers) did an amazing job, and we had close to a record year,” he said.

“The positives out of last year were when we had fairly good numbers on our tours that made a big difference in our performance.”

A struggle Mr Smith and his team had was organising hotel operators, meal providers, service, and entry providers to packages with his tours.

“As an example, with the New South Wales border closures, we were having to cancel – sometimes last-minute – going into hotels and motels in South Australia and New South Wales,” Mr Smith said.

“While at the same time coming up with an alternative program where we can fit a coach full of people – on the road already – on an alternative program.

“It was a logistical nightmare for our team – but I don’t just think of our team, I think of our suppliers; what some of them lost was unthinkable, particularly Innamincka and Tiboobura which just got thrashed last year.”

Mr Smith said with that volatility in the market tours could go from full or half-full to near-on-empty.

“People were getting scared off from travelling to Queensland, and I guess the biggest the negative effect was when the airline hostess said she had caught Covid,” he said.

“When it got out in the media it was then followed by the Brisbane lockdowns – we had three weeks where we were very much affected.

“We had $800,000 cancelled in one week.”

Mr Smith said. his team and the market responded quite well, but much of his potential business had been devastated.

“One of the things that really hurt was our summer bookings,” he said.

“Our summer program was a non-event, we only took not even a handful of tourists.

“It was the lightest summer period we’ve had for 10 or 15 years.”

Positively, Mr Smith said there was a lot of road traffic in Longreach throughout 2020, and the boat and day tour side of his business was able to respond accordingly.

“That bounced back fairly quickly and was busy until the second or third week of October before petering off,” he said.

“We ran full dinner cruises until early December – the business was certainly there.

“Operationally we just need to question how we operate out of summer.

“Overall it was a good year, it just came with a lot of heartache.”

Going into this year, Mr Smith said he is looking at record bookings for his extended tour program.

“If Covid’s settled down by April/ May, enough for people to have the confidence to travel, it will be – all things equal – the record year,” he said.

“It’s not just potential – it’s booked.

“The unknown factor is the Covid factor.

“You know what, we didn’t know what we were getting into last year, but we ended up having a good year financially.”