Strong season ahead


Michael R Williams

Despite higher fuel costs, the opening of borders, and floods along the east coast, bookings have remained at all-time highs going into the Easter holidays.

However, Outback Aussie Tours business owner/ operator Alan “Smithy” Smith said he has seen fewer walk-in tourists making for a more organised season – making for the best of both worlds.

“It’s looking, probably, as big as ever,” he said.

“We’d normally go four or five nights a week in early April – we’re now going almost seven nights a week.

“We may have a few crusies a week with a few numbers short, but essentially we’re booked out.”

Mr Smith said tourists had been booking well in advance.

“They’re getting organised, which makes it fantastic for us to be able to predict things,” he said.

“Last year was busy, but this year we have much more forward bookings.

“We’ll look back over Easter to see how we really do, but a lot of people have bought vans over the past year and they want to use them.”

Based on information he has gathered at various caravan shows, Mr Smith said the skyrocketing fuel prices had not abated tourist’s hunger for new experiences in the current period of Covid we are experiencing.

“Let’s see how that unfolds, as predictions and reality can be different,” he said.

At this point, Mr Smith has experienced only cancellations in relation to contracting Covid.

“It’s the exception to the rule,” he said.

“The outback has been in such demand, and people are forward booking.

“This can only be good for everybody in tourism.”

Mr Smith commended the retail outlets in town for their investments, which have allowed for greater capacity in handling tourist and local demand.

“We’re poised to handle that [the larger volume of customers], there’s a lot more capacity there,” he said.

“I have to commend the bakery which kept the town alive through the pandemic.

“I think we’ll see lines, but not lines like last year.”

Despite the added challenge of finding workers, Mr Smith has managed to fill his roster for the coming season.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a strong reputation,” he said.

“We actually had people who sent their CVs to us for driver/ host jobs.

“We did not have to advertise for the river cruise parts of our business.

“We had 30 applications for the driver/ host positions, but none for our HR position – so it depends.”

Along with a strong team numbers-wise, Mr Smith has organise the team for the season with on-the-job training.

“We’ve never been more prepared for a tourist season,” he said.

“We believe the customer experience will benefit from he time we’ve put into our team, and with that, the Longreach economy.”

Mr Smith said it was important to be realistic with expectations for the tourist season and seasons to come as borders begin to open up.

“People are returning to over seas travel,” he said.

“The need for outback operators to get on one page and market and develop product for all of the regions is critical.

“We need to work together, and build a conference around Longreach – there is so much opportunity to extend the season.

“It’s hard to justify a new attraction or motel, when the season is so short.”