With the wide open spaces, incredible beaches, and some of the best wine regions on the planet, South Australia has plenty to offer the earnest traveler. And it’s Brent Hill’s job to let them know it.
Hill is the Director of Marketing for the South Australian Tourism Commission. He leads a team of 40 local and 15 overseas team members whose job it is to drive tourism to the state. And they had been seeing record success with visitor spend up 13% in 2019 to an all-time-high $7.8 billion.
Then, COVID-19 swept across the planet like a slow-motion sandstorm—enveloping country after country and leading to a near total shutdown of leisure travel worldwide. Now, Hill worries some of his tourism operators won’t endure the economic fallout. But that doesn’t mean they’re giving up without a fight. Here’s what he told me.
Q. When did you first notice changes in the industry due to coronavirus?
A. As early as early January – when flights started to be impacted from China. China is our #1 source market for inbound tourism, so it was noticeable early on.
Q. What has it been like to be on the front lines of this crisis?
A. Terrible, tragic.. everything you can think of. So many cancellations. Tourism has now shrunk to the point that we are not encouraging people to travel, and the advice is now to stay at home as much as possible to stop the spread. [This has had] lots of negative impact on businesses, sadly. However, we are trying to remain calm and stoic and find ways to innovate, pivot, keep things going and find ways for operators to create value.
Q. Have you seen providers engage in any creative strategies for dealing with the situation?
A. Yes.. we [initially worked on] a concept called #workfromhere – which enabled tourism operators to share their accommodation or space, and to invite people to come and self isolate or social distance, by working from their beautiful location.
[With tighter travel restrictions] what we have done now is introduce #SeeSouthAustraliaFromHere on Facebook – a page where tourism businesses can put up details of their changes and innovative offerings to a wide audience who can still support them from home.
Q. What advice would you give providers who are struggling right now?
A. Innovate as much as possible. We have some operators who are moving to delivery services, online ordering, e-commerce type businesses. It’s impressive to see. Assume the worst and plan for that – there’s still time to do things to plan for a full lockdown.
Q. How well has Australia managed the crisis, in general? And is there any help on the way for the travel industry specifically?
A. Ok. I think we’ve been proactive and taken good steps each time. But we need to help businesses directly. These guys are struggling to pay bills, pay wages, pay rents. Practical, quick relief would be amazing. Bailing out airlines is important.
“Those who do [survive] will have been innovative, creative and prudent.”
Q. What do you think will be the lasting impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Australia’s travel & hospitality industry?
A. It will change it completely. I hope many survive, and those who do will have been innovative, creative and prudent. We’ll all be very astute at e-commerce, and there will be perhaps more focus on value, given everyone will have taken a hit to the wallet.
I hope also that people are now kinder to each other, understand and appreciate the simpler things... and that as many businesses as possible survive and we appreciate what they offer. There will definitely be a moment in history that is pre-COVID19 and post-COVID19.
Thank you Brent, for sharing your experience with us. To learn more about tourism in South Australia visit http://tourism.sa.gov.au/.