Almost 500 delegates from across South Australia gathered at Adelaide Oval and in seven regional tourism hubs for the first hybrid Tourism Industry Restart Conference, to unravel the learnings and outlook for the tourism industry in the wake of bushfires, drought and COVID-19.

Dozens of stories, facts and figures, and expertise on everything from economics to mental wellbeing were shared, and everyone left with takeaway thoughts to consider.

Shaun de Bruyn, CEO of TiCSA, said each of the state’s 18,000 tourism businesses, many small and family run, have been hit hard this year, particularly through COVID-19.

“The industry has never faced a bigger challenge,” to rebound and recover, he said.

Premier Steven Marshall, also Tourism Minister, pointed to some of the actions taken by the State Government to assist through the bushfires until now, including Book Them Out, Welcome Back and the most recent, Great State vouchers to encourage South Australians to book local hotels.

He also assured that smaller events will be created to replace some of the larger attractions that have been shelved, including the Santos Tour Down Under 2021 and the Superloop Adelaide 500.

There is a “silver lining to the dark cloud that has been Coronavirus,” said the Premier. “We, as a government, are 100% committed to increasing visitation in the tourism sector.”

And perhaps summing up the sentiment in the industry and the overarching theme of the day:

“Our aim is to emerge stronger than we were before. After higher visitation numbers in June and July 2020 than in the past 20 years, we are cautiously optimistic,” said Pierre Gregor, co-host of Adagio B&B on Kangaroo Island.

Here’s a roundup of some of the takeaways, provided by TiCSA partner, South Australian professional services firm Hood Sweeney. Through its seven diverse but connected services, Hood Sweeney can assist with many of the areas discussed at the conference. We have specialists in:

  • Accounting & Business Advisory
  • Consulting & Performance Coaching
  • Financial Planning
  • Technology Services
  • Finance
  • People & Culture Consulting
  • Marketing Advisory

Priya Chadha, in Hood Sweeney’s Accounting & Business Advisory team, has offered some insights throughout on how the firm can assist TiCSA members. To find out more, please contact Hood Sweeney on 1300 764 200 or send an email and we’ll be in touch.

Michael Campbell of Lucid Economics said the tourism industry is going to lead the economic recovery in Australia next year.

September quarter figures in the Tourism Barometer show a bounce back in sentiment, suggesting ‘we’re back, baby!’

In March this year, more than 99% of businesses said they expected weaker conditions. In the latest barometer that dropped to 50%. If borders continue to open around the country and the world, allowing more travel, Mr Campbell said we will be back in positive territory soon.

“This industry is very resilient and is driving towards a bright future into the Christmas season and beyond,” he said.

Priya Chadha, Hood Sweeney: Just like COVID, now is not the time to get too complacent. It is really important, with all the changes that you are currently feeling and experiencing, that you are operating your business the best you can – not just having a strong balance sheet and being profitable but ensuring your whole business is sustainable and viable for the future.  This is where Hood Sweeney can assist with our Better Business Program, a unique service we offer to look at the whole business not just the numbers. 

With plenty of humour and irreverence, financial journalist, Michael Pascoe shared some top tips from his travel agent sister, which could pertain to all businesses:

  • All clients matter: relationships are the key to success and managing tough times.
  • You don’t forget good suppliers: people remember who has been good to them during a rough patch.
  • Cash is king; having cash on hand gives options. You are more likely to be able to ride out a downturn in business.
  • Budget and plan: if you budget and have a plan, no matter what happens you won’t be caught like a rabbit in headlights.
  • And those who survive can thrive.

Mr Pascoe said one of the challenges for businesses will be the ceasing of JobKeeper wage subsidies in March 2021. These payments to employers have been a safety net through COVID-19, allowing them to keep staff employed. The question is whether the Federal Government has “thrown down enough ropes and ladders for people to climb back up” once the safety net is removed.

He warned that there is probably a second wave of challenge ahead in a post JobKeeper environment. “There are zombie businesses that will be put down.”

Priya Chadha, Hood Sweeney: We can assist you with cashflow forecasting.  We are having a lot of conversations with our clients and reiterating that even though they are feeling more cash positive in their businesses with rent relief, wages being paid through IobKeeper, tax on salary and wages being paid through cashflow booster, and state payroll – there’s a need to start focusing on cash and working capital for next 12 – 18 months.  We can assist you with budgeting, cash flow forecasting and financial modelling.  We are noticing that clients are focusing on the short term and we need to work with them to ensure long term viability.  By having cash you have options.

Another thing to be aware of with the ceasing of government relief that you need to be aware of the State and Federal Grants that are available to you and also the process of applying.  Hood Sweeney can assist with ensuring you don’t miss out by assisting you with the application processes with our team of experts in this industry.

Dr Tom Nehmy, a clinical psychologist and Director of Healthy Minds Enterprises talked about the impacts on, and importance of maintaining mental wellbeing during challenging times – in this case, through fires, droughts and a global pandemic of 2020.

He assured that it’s not normal to feel happy 24-7, and perfectly smooth sailing doesn’t do much to teach us about wellbeing. Overcoming discomfort can actually make us stronger.

“Be courageous, not perfect. Courage is what will see us through,” said Dr Nehmy.

He talked about optimalism – or the ability to roll with things as they happen and make the best of a situation, even if it is uncomfortable or unpleasant. He said the hope for tourism businesses is that they can take something, a learning or a change in the way they do things, from this year to expand and improve their capabilities.

Among his pointers, he encouraged the tourism sector to:

  • Focus on longer term development,
  • Be willing to accept some discomfort,
  • Cultivate wellbeing,
  • And focus on what we are grateful for.

Finally, being so far away from much or the world and relatively sparsely populated is working in Australia’s favour, said Susan Coghill, Chief Marketing Officer at Tourism Australia.

She said the intent and desire to travel in the next six months is high, at 54% according a Tourism Australia survey. Nature and wildlife-geared vacations are a particular sweet spot for Australia.

“There is evidence of green shoots” appearing for travel to Australia, “Pent up demand for a safe holiday is becoming more important than price,” said Ms Coghill.

“Where time and distance were once barriers for Australia, they are now benefits or strengths.”

For the tourism industry, she reminded that flexible cancellation policies for potential travellers, as well as rigorous physical distancing and COVID-19-compliant cleaning regimes are paramount.

There is no doubt that the Coronavirus has been “a massive transformative event,” said social researcher, Mark McCrindle of McCrindle Research.

In Australia, COVID-19 has predominantly had an impact because of the uncertainty and the economic impact borne out by the global threat, moreso than a health crisis. The legacy, he said, is that the pandemic has forced innovation and a rebalancing of priorities, resulting in many people becoming more content with simple pleasures and grateful for their freedom.

It has also led to the rise of the regions as people travel to areas they may not have considered, in part because interstate and international travel are not options.

Mr McCrindle’s research found that 87% of Australian agreed that even with unprecedented challenges, they have felt resilient and made the best of it through COVID-19.

He said 57% of Australians surveyed in October said 2020 was their most difficult year yet.

The year has highlighted the need to be adaptive, responsive, innovative and proactive. It is time now to plan and set up for the rest of the decade, said Mr McCrindle. He said leaders do not complain about the direction of the wind – they reset the sails to suit it.

His research aligned with other presenters showing that pent-up demand to travel, and money saved during the shutdowns and border closures, will lead to solid rebounds for the tourism industry.

He also pointed to the massive and accelerated Technology changes, which were brought to the fore for many during Covid-19, where working from home, screen-based communication, and shopping online became the norm for so many. He said 78% of people surveyed in October said working from home will become the new normal.

About 61% said a hybrid of working from home and in the office is their preferred option.

What does this mean for the tourism sector? Well, if people are able to work remotely, it means they can travel mid-week and work from any place suitably connected – that could be a coastal resort a caravan park in the hills, or an outback hotel.

As bad as 2020 and Covid-19, in particular, has been, Mr McCrindle said we have a lot to thank it for in terms of forcing businesses to adapt, innovate and respond to changing needs.

Priya Chadha, Hood Sweeney: Our technology services arm specialises in getting businesses connected, whether city-based or in the regions, helping them to mitigate the risks of increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats, and setting up remote working environments. Find out more here.

To bring all these thoughts together, an industry panel discussed their personal experiences and how they diversified their products to be innovative, adaptive and responsive. The panel comprised:

  • Michelle Hocking, representing Adelaide Showgrounds, home to more than 200 events a year including the Royal Adelaide Show, which was cancelled in 2020 for only the fourth time in its 181-year history.
  • Craig Wickham of Exceptional KI, a wildlife tour and destination management company on Kangaroo Island.
  • Simon Burley, owner of boutique coastal lodge, adventure tours and electric mountain bike hire, Coast & Co. on the Fleurieu Peninsula.

The common themes of this panel discussion included the following:

Put aside the noise – connect with community and choose wisely who, and what information you listen to.

Simon: For the past nine months there has been so much uncertainty. It’s been very challenging. I’ve tried to put aside the noise and focus on what we have to do.

Craig: We went from fighting bushfires to fighting for our business. In a perverse way, the fires set us up for COVID. We started taking photos and videos early on and upped our social media. That was important because it’s been about connecting with people and with the community.

Focus on the upside – work with what you’ve got.

Craig: In April we started talking to travel agents who would normally be booking people to go to Africa or Japan or wherever – and we started suggesting Kangaroo Island as an option.

We made sure we really showcased the space and the connection to nature.

We’re always asking ourselves what we can do to connect with the marketplace that is available to us at the moment.

Simon: We were already planning how we could work with retail travel agents across Australia and we just accelerated that.

Michelle: There is always a positive and we’ve found a positive through diversifying our revenue stream.

Pivot, Change, Invent & Innovate, Use Technology – find new ways to do things to attract and comfort consumers and clients.

Michelle: When the Royal Adelaide Show cancelled, the Showground brought forward plans to open a caravan park on site.

We’re not in the tourism accommodation business, we’re in events. But gee, when you have to learn quickly, you do.

We flipped to technology more than ever. The new onsite caravan park at the Showground is automated, so there is no need for human contact.

The boom gates were lifted during Covid-19 to allow access to the Adelaide Farmers Market, which became and essential service.

The Showground moved to a cashless system for parking.

Virtual communication with volunteers was adopted.

Simon: We put money into the lodge on the Fleurieu; built a wild-coast lookout; a fire pit; invested more in the suites; we upped our focus on selling the lodge through partnerships. 

We also instituted a self-check-in system, which worked really well.

Craig: I’ve pivoted so much, I’m a bit dizzy!

Priya Chadha, Hood Sweeney: Our dedicated Xero team, a platinum partner, constantly looks at ways to assist clients to ensure they are using their current accounting system as efficiently as possible.  It is not always about starting from scratch but to utilise what you have and get guidance how you can do it better. 

Ask for help – you’re not alone.

Michelle: We asked for financial assistance. It’s okay to put your hand up and ask for help.

To run through any of the issues mentioned at the conference with an accountant, business advisor or one of our other service lines, from Performance Coaching to Marketing, or Finance, please ring Hood Sweeney on 1300 764 200 or send an email and we will be in touch.